Experience-dependent, rapid structural changes in hippocampal pyramidal cell spines

Cereb Cortex. 2009 Nov;19(11):2572-8. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhp012. Epub 2009 Feb 24.


Morphological changes in dendritic spines may contribute to the fine tuning of neural network connectivity. The relationship between spine morphology and experience-dependent neuronal activity, however, is largely unknown. In the present study, we combined 2 histological analyses to examine this relationship: 1) Measurement of spines of neurons whose morphology was visualized in brain sections of mice expressing membrane-targeted green fluorescent protein (Thy1-mGFP mice) and 2) Categorization of CA1 neurons by immunohistochemical monitoring of Arc expression as a putative marker of recent neuronal activity. After mice were exposed to a novel, enriched environment for 60 min, neurons that expressed Arc had fewer small spines and more large spines than Arc-negative cells. These differences were not observed when the exploration time was shortened to 15 min. This net-balanced structural change is consistent with both synapse-specific enhancement and suppression. These results provide the first evidence of rapid morphological changes in spines that were preferential to a subset of neurons in association with an animal's experiences.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Dendrites / physiology*
  • Dendrites / ultrastructure*
  • Environment*
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology*
  • Pyramidal Cells / cytology*
  • Pyramidal Cells / physiology*