Control of Dendritic Spine Morphological and Functional Plasticity by Small GTPases

Neural Plast. 2016;2016:3025948. doi: 10.1155/2016/3025948. Epub 2016 Feb 18.


Structural plasticity of excitatory synapses is a vital component of neuronal development, synaptic plasticity, and behaviour. Abnormal development or regulation of excitatory synapses has also been strongly implicated in many neurodevelopmental, psychiatric, and neurodegenerative disorders. In the mammalian forebrain, the majority of excitatory synapses are located on dendritic spines, specialized dendritic protrusions that are enriched in actin. Research over recent years has begun to unravel the complexities involved in the regulation of dendritic spine structure. The small GTPase family of proteins have emerged as key regulators of structural plasticity, linking extracellular signals with the modulation of dendritic spines, which potentially underlies their ability to influence cognition. Here we review a number of studies that examine how small GTPases are activated and regulated in neurons and furthermore how they can impact actin dynamics, and thus dendritic spine morphology. Elucidating this signalling process is critical for furthering our understanding of the basic mechanisms by which information is encoded in neural circuits but may also provide insight into novel targets for the development of effective therapies to treat cognitive dysfunction seen in a range of neurological disorders.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / cytology*
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Dendritic Spines / metabolism
  • Dendritic Spines / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Microfilament Proteins / metabolism
  • Microfilament Proteins / physiology
  • Monomeric GTP-Binding Proteins / metabolism
  • Monomeric GTP-Binding Proteins / physiology*
  • Neuronal Plasticity*
  • Neurons / cytology*
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Signal Transduction


  • Microfilament Proteins
  • Monomeric GTP-Binding Proteins