Dendritic spines: the locus of structural and functional plasticity

Physiol Rev. 2014 Jan;94(1):141-88. doi: 10.1152/physrev.00012.2013.


The introduction of high-resolution time lapse imaging and molecular biological tools has changed dramatically the rate of progress towards the understanding of the complex structure-function relations in synapses of central spiny neurons. Standing issues, including the sequence of molecular and structural processes leading to formation, morphological change, and longevity of dendritic spines, as well as the functions of dendritic spines in neurological/psychiatric diseases are being addressed in a growing number of recent studies. There are still unsettled issues with respect to spine formation and plasticity: Are spines formed first, followed by synapse formation, or are synapses formed first, followed by emergence of a spine? What are the immediate and long-lasting changes in spine properties following exposure to plasticity-producing stimulation? Is spine volume/shape indicative of its function? These and other issues are addressed in this review, which highlights the complexity of molecular pathways involved in regulation of spine structure and function, and which contributes to the understanding of central synaptic interactions in health and disease.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Calcium / metabolism
  • Dendritic Spines / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology*
  • Potassium Channels / metabolism
  • Sodium Channels / metabolism
  • Spine / cytology
  • Spine / physiology*


  • Potassium Channels
  • Sodium Channels
  • Calcium