Ultrastructure of dendritic spines: correlation between synaptic and spine morphologies

Front Neurosci. 2007 Oct 15;1(1):131-43. doi: 10.3389/neuro. eCollection 2007 Nov.


Dendritic spines are critical elements of cortical circuits, since they establish most excitatory synapses. Recent studies have reported correlations between morphological and functional parameters of spines. Specifically, the spine head volume is correlated with the area of the postsynaptic density (PSD), the number of postsynaptic receptors and the ready-releasable pool of transmitter, whereas the length of the spine neck is proportional to the degree of biochemical and electrical isolation of the spine from its parent dendrite. Therefore, the morphology of a spine could determine its synaptic strength and learning rules.To better understand the natural variability of neocortical spine morphologies, we used a combination of gold-toned Golgi impregnations and serial thin-section electron microscopy and performed three-dimensional reconstructions of spines from layer 2/3 pyramidal cells from mouse visual cortex. We characterized the structure and synaptic features of 144 completed reconstructed spines, and analyzed their morphologies according to their positions. For all morphological parameters analyzed, spines exhibited a continuum of variability, without clearly distinguishable subtypes of spines or clear dependence of their morphologies on their distance to the soma. On average, the spine head volume was correlated strongly with PSD area and weakly with neck diameter, but not with neck length. The large morphological diversity suggests an equally large variability of synaptic strength and learning rules.

Keywords: PSD; Pyramidal; electron microscopy; serial section.