Anatomical and physiological plasticity of dendritic spines

Annu Rev Neurosci. 2007:30:79-97. doi: 10.1146/annurev.neuro.30.051606.094222.


In excitatory neurons, most glutamatergic synapses are made on the heads of dendritic spines, each of which houses the postsynaptic terminal of a single glutamatergic synapse. We review recent studies demonstrating in vivo that spines are motile and plastic structures whose morphology and lifespan are influenced, even in adult animals, by changes in sensory input. However, most spines that appear in adult animals are transient, and the addition of stable spines and synapses is rare. In vitro studies have shown that patterns of neuronal activity known to induce synaptic plasticity can also trigger changes in spine morphology. Therefore, it is tempting to speculate that the plastic changes of spine morphology reflect the dynamic state of its associated synapse and are responsible to some extent for neuronal circuitry remodeling. Nevertheless, morphological changes are not required for all forms of synaptic plasticity, and whether changes in the spine shape and size significantly impact synaptic signals is unclear.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aging / physiology
  • Animals
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain / ultrastructure
  • Dendritic Spines / physiology*
  • Dendritic Spines / ultrastructure
  • Humans
  • Membrane Potentials / physiology
  • Neural Pathways / physiology
  • Neural Pathways / ultrastructure
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology*
  • Sensation / physiology
  • Synapses / physiology*
  • Synapses / ultrastructure
  • Synaptic Transmission / physiology*