In vivo time-lapse imaging and serial section electron microscopy reveal developmental synaptic rearrangements

Neuron. 2011 Jan 27;69(2):273-86. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2010.12.022.


Dendrites, axons, and synapses are dynamic during circuit development; however, changes in microcircuit connections as branches stabilize have not been directly demonstrated. By combining in vivo time-lapse imaging of Xenopus tectal neurons with electron microscope reconstructions of imaged neurons, we report the distribution and ultrastructure of synapses on individual vertebrate neurons and relate these synaptic properties to dynamics in dendritic and axonal arbor structure over hours or days of imaging. Dynamic dendrites have a high density of immature synapses, whereas stable dendrites have sparser, mature synapses. Axons initiate contacts from multisynapse boutons on stable branches. Connections are refined by decreasing convergence from multiple inputs to postsynaptic dendrites and by decreasing divergence from multisynapse boutons to postsynaptic sites. Visual deprivation or NMDAR antagonists decreased synapse maturation and elimination, suggesting that coactive input activity promotes microcircuit development by concurrently regulating synapse elimination and maturation of remaining contacts.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Dendrites / physiology
  • Dendrites / ultrastructure
  • Microscopy, Electron / methods*
  • Synapses / physiology*
  • Synapses / ultrastructure*
  • Synaptic Vesicles / ultrastructure
  • Time-Lapse Imaging / methods*
  • Xenopus laevis / anatomy & histology
  • Xenopus laevis / physiology