Methods of dendritic spine detection: from Golgi to high-resolution optical imaging

Neuroscience. 2013 Oct 22;251:129-40. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2012.04.010. Epub 2012 Apr 20.


Dendritic spines, the bulbous protrusions that form the postsynaptic half of excitatory synapses, are one of the most prominent features of neurons and have been imaged and studied for over a century. In that time, changes in the number and morphology of dendritic spines have been correlated to the developmental process as well as the pathophysiology of a number of neurodegenerative diseases. Due to the sheer scale of synaptic connectivity in the brain, work to date has merely scratched the surface in the study of normal spine function and pathology. This review will highlight traditional approaches to the imaging of dendritic spines and newer approaches made possible by advances in microscopy, protein engineering, and image analysis. The review will also describe recent work that is leading researchers toward the possibility of a systematic and comprehensive study of spine anatomy throughout the brain.

Keywords: 3-D; AT; GVF; GluR; NeuronIQ; PSF; array tomography; dendritic spines; glutamate receptors; gradient vector flow; image analysis; informatics; microscopy; neuron image quantitator; point spread function; three-dimensional; transgenic mice; two-photon.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Dendritic Spines / ultrastructure*
  • Microscopy / methods*
  • Optical Imaging / methods*
  • Silver Staining / methods*