Variations of dopamine (DA) levels induced by drugs of abuse or in the context of Parkinson's disease modulate the number of dendritic spines in medium spiny neurons (MSNs) of the striatum, showing that DA plays a major role in the structural plasticity of MSNs. However, little is presently known regarding early spine development in MSNs occurring before the arrival of cortical inputs and in particular about the role of DA and D1 (D1R) and D2 (D2R) DA receptors. A cell culture model reconstituting early cellular interactions between MSNs, intrinsic cholinergic interneurons and DA neurons was used to study the role of DA in spine formation. After 5 or 10 days in vitro, the presence of DA neurons increased the number of immature spine-like protrusions. In MSN monocultures, chronic activation of D1R or D2R also increased the number of spines and spinophilin expression in MSNs, suggesting a direct role for these receptors. In DA-MSN cocultures, chronic blockade of D1R or D2R reduced the number of dendritic spines. Interestingly, the combined activation or blockade of both D1R and D2R failed to elicit more extensive spine formation, suggesting that both receptors act through a mechanism that is not additive. Finally, we found increased ionotropic glutamate receptor responsiveness and miniature excitatory postsynaptic current (EPSC) frequency in DA-MSN co-cultures, in parallel with a higher number of spines containing PSD-95, suggesting that the newly formed spines present functional post-synaptic machinery preparing the MSNs to receive additional glutamatergic contacts. These results represent a first step in the understanding of how dopamine neurons promote the structural plasticity of MSNs during the development of basal ganglia circuits.
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