Dendritic Spines as Tunable Regulators of Synaptic Signals

Front Psychiatry. 2016 Jun 9;7:101. doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2016.00101. eCollection 2016.


Neurons are perpetually receiving vast amounts of information in the form of synaptic input from surrounding cells. The majority of input occurs at thousands of dendritic spines, which mediate excitatory synaptic transmission in the brain, and is integrated by the dendritic and somatic compartments of the postsynaptic neuron. The functional role of dendritic spines in shaping biochemical and electrical signals transmitted via synapses has long been intensely studied. Yet, many basic questions remain unanswered, in particular regarding the impact of their nanoscale morphology on electrical signals. Here, we review our current understanding of the structure and function relationship of dendritic spines, focusing on the controversy of electrical compartmentalization and the potential role of spine structural changes in synaptic plasticity.

Keywords: dendritic spines; hippocampus; super-resolution fluorescence microscopy; synapses; synaptic plasticity.