Recent studies show that dendritic spines are dynamic structures. Their rapid creation, destruction and shape-changing are essential for short- and long-term plasticity at excitatory synapses on pyramidal neurons in the cerebral cortex. The onset of long-term potentiation, spine-volume growth and an increase in receptor trafficking are coincident, enabling a 'functional readout' of spine structure that links the age, size, strength and lifetime of a synapse. Spine dynamics are also implicated in long-term memory and cognition: intrinsic fluctuations in volume can explain synapse maintenance over long periods, and rapid, activity-triggered plasticity can relate directly to cognitive processes. Thus, spine dynamics are cellular phenomena with important implications for cognition and memory. Furthermore, impaired spine dynamics can cause psychiatric and neurodevelopmental disorders.
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