Cortical dendritic spine heads are not electrically isolated by the spine neck from membrane potential signals in parent dendrites

Cereb Cortex. 2014 Feb;24(2):385-95. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhs320. Epub 2012 Oct 10.


The evidence for an important hypothesis that cortical spine morphology might participate in modifying synaptic efficacy that underlies plasticity and possibly learning and memory mechanisms is inconclusive. Both theory and experiments suggest that the transfer of excitatory postsynaptic potential signals from spines to parent dendrites depends on the spine neck morphology and resistance. Furthermore, modeling of signal transfer in the opposite direction predicts that synapses on spine heads are not electrically isolated from voltages in the parent dendrite. In sharp contrast to this theoretical prediction, one of a very few measurements of electrical signals from spines reported that slow hyperpolarizing membrane potential changes are attenuated considerably by the spine neck as they spread from dendrites to synapses on spine heads. This result challenges our understanding of the electrical behavior of spines at a fundamental level. To re-examine the specific question of the transfer of dendritic signals to synapses of spines, we took advantage of a high-sensitivity Vm-imaging technique and carried out optical measurements of electrical signals from 4 groups of spines with different neck length and simultaneously from parent dendrites. The results show that spine neck does not filter membrane potential signals as they spread from the dendrites into the spine heads.

Keywords: cerebral cortex; cortical spines; optical recording; plasticity; voltage-sensitive dyes.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials
  • Animals
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology*
  • Computer Simulation
  • Dendrites / physiology*
  • Dendritic Spines / physiology*
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Membrane Potentials / physiology*
  • Mice
  • Models, Neurological
  • Optical Imaging
  • Patch-Clamp Techniques
  • Pyramidal Cells / physiology
  • Somatosensory Cortex / physiology
  • Synapses / physiology*
  • Time Factors
  • Voltage-Sensitive Dye Imaging