Morphological changes in dendritic spines of Purkinje cells associated with motor learning

Neurobiol Learn Mem. 2007 Nov;88(4):445-50. doi: 10.1016/j.nlm.2007.06.001. Epub 2007 Aug 27.


Experience-dependent changes of spine structure and number may contribute to long-term memory storage. Although several studies demonstrated structural spine plasticity following associative learning, there is limited evidence associating motor learning with alteration of spine morphology. Here, we investigated this issue in the cerebellar Purkinje cells using high voltage electron microscopy (HVEM). Adult rats were trained in an obstacle course, demanding significant motor coordination to complete. Control animals either traversed an obstacle-free runway or remained sedentary. Quantitative analysis of spine morphology showed that the density and length of dendritic spines along the distal dendrites of Purkinje cells were significantly increased in the rats that learned complex motor skills compared to active or inactive controls. Classification of spines into shape categories indicated that the increased spine density and length after motor learning was mainly attributable to an increase in thin spines. These findings suggest that motor learning induces structural spine plasticity in the cerebellar Purkinje neurons, which may play a crucial role in acquiring complex motor skills.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Analysis of Variance
  • Animals
  • Cell Shape
  • Dendritic Spines / physiology*
  • Learning / physiology
  • Male
  • Motor Skills / physiology*
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology*
  • Purkinje Cells / cytology*
  • Purkinje Cells / physiology
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley