Structural changes at synapses are thought to be a key mechanism for the encoding of memories in the brain. Recent studies have shown that changes in the dynamic behavior of dendritic spines accompany bidirectional changes in synaptic plasticity, and that the disruption of structural constraints at synapses may play a mechanistic role in spine plasticity. While the prolonged disruption of N-cadherin, a key synaptic adhesion molecule, has been shown to alter spine morphology, little is known about the short-term regulation of spine morphological dynamics by N-cadherin. With time-lapse, confocal imaging in cultured hippocampal neurons, we examined the progression of structural changes in spines following an acute treatment with AHAVD, a peptide known to interfere with the function of N-cadherin. We characterized fast and slow timescale spine dynamics (minutes and hours, respectively) in the same population of spines. We show that N-cadherin disruption leads to enhanced spine motility and reduced length, followed by spine loss. The structural effects are accompanied by a loss of functional connectivity. Further, we demonstrate that early structural changes induced by AHAVD treatment, namely enhanced motility and reduced length, are indicators for later spine fate, i.e., spines with the former changes are more likely to be subsequently lost. Our results thus reveal the short-term regulation of synaptic structure by N-cadherin and suggest that some forms of morphological dynamics may be potential readouts for subsequent, stimulus-induced rewiring in neuronal networks.
Keywords: N-cadherin; cell adhesion; hippocampus; motility; spine dynamics; structural constraints.