Dendritic spine dynamics

Annu Rev Physiol. 2009;71:261-82. doi: 10.1146/annurev.physiol.010908.163140.


Dendritic spines are the postsynaptic components of most excitatory synapses in the mammalian brain. Spines accumulate rapidly during early postnatal development and undergo a substantial loss as animals mature into adulthood. In past decades, studies have revealed that the number and size of dendritic spines are regulated by a variety of gene products and environmental factors, underscoring the dynamic nature of spines and their importance to brain plasticity. Recently, in vivo time-lapse imaging of dendritic spines in the cerebral cortex suggests that, although spines are highly plastic during development, they are remarkably stable in adulthood, and most of them last throughout life. Therefore, dendritic spines may provide a structural basis for lifelong information storage, in addition to their well-established role in brain plasticity. Because dendritic spines are the key elements for information acquisition and retention, understanding how spines are formed and maintained, particularly in the intact brain, will likely provide fundamental insights into how the brain possesses the extraordinary capacity to learn and to remember.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain Diseases / physiopathology
  • Dendritic Spines / physiology*
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Humans
  • Learning / physiology
  • Memory / physiology
  • Mice
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology*
  • Synapses / physiology*