Experience-dependent modifications of neural circuits provide the cellular basis for functional adaptation and learning, while presenting significant challenges to the stability of neural networks. The nervous system copes with these perturbations through a variety of compensatory mechanisms with distinct spatial and temporal profiles. Mounting evidence suggests that structural plasticity, through modifications of the number and structure of synapses, or changes in local and long-range connectivity, might contribute to the stabilization of network activity and serve as an important component of the homeostatic regulation of the nervous system. Conceptually similar to the homeostatic regulation of synaptic strength and efficacy, homeostatic structural plasticity has a profound and lasting impact on the intrinsic excitability of the neuron and circuit properties, yet remains largely unexplored. In this review, we examine recent reports describing structural modifications associated with functional compensation in both developing and adult nervous systems, and discuss the potential role for structural homeostasis in maintaining network stability and its implications in physiological and pathological conditions of the nervous systems.
Keywords: activity-dependent plasticity; homeostasis; neural development; neuronal morphology; structural plasticity.