Nanoscale analysis of structural synaptic plasticity

Curr Opin Neurobiol. 2012 Jun;22(3):372-82. doi: 10.1016/j.conb.2011.10.019. Epub 2011 Nov 14.


Structural plasticity of dendritic spines and synapses is an essential mechanism to sustain long lasting changes in the brain with learning and experience. The use of electron microscopy over the last several decades has advanced our understanding of the magnitude and extent of structural plasticity at a nanoscale resolution. In particular, serial section electron microscopy (ssEM) provides accurate measurements of plasticity-related changes in synaptic size and density and distribution of key cellular resources such as polyribosomes, smooth endoplasmic reticulum, and synaptic vesicles. Careful attention to experimental and analytical approaches ensures correct interpretation of ultrastructural data and has begun to reveal the degree to which synapses undergo structural remodeling in response to physiological plasticity.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Dendrites / ultrastructure
  • Dendritic Spines / ultrastructure
  • Humans
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Models, Anatomic
  • Nanotechnology
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology*
  • Neurons / cytology*
  • Synapses / classification
  • Synapses / physiology*
  • Synapses / ultrastructure*