Dendritic spines: from structure to in vivo function

EMBO Rep. 2012 Aug;13(8):699-708. doi: 10.1038/embor.2012.102. Epub 2012 Jul 13.


Dendritic spines arise as small protrusions from the dendritic shaft of various types of neuron and receive inputs from excitatory axons. Ever since dendritic spines were first described in the nineteenth century, questions about their function have spawned many hypotheses. In this review, we introduce understanding of the structural and biochemical properties of dendritic spines with emphasis on components studied with imaging methods. We then explore advances in in vivo imaging methods that are allowing spine activity to be studied in living tissue, from super-resolution techniques to calcium imaging. Finally, we review studies on spine structure and function in vivo. These new results shed light on the development, integration properties and plasticity of spines.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Dendritic Spines / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Imaging, Three-Dimensional
  • Models, Biological
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology
  • Synaptic Transmission / physiology