Periodic F-actin structures shape the neck of dendritic spines

Sci Rep. 2016 Nov 14;6:37136. doi: 10.1038/srep37136.


Most of the excitatory synapses on principal neurons of the forebrain are located on specialized structures called dendritic spines. Their morphology, comprising a spine head connected to the dendritic branch via a thin neck, provides biochemical and electrical compartmentalization during signal transmission. Spine shape is defined and tightly controlled by the organization of the actin cytoskeleton. Alterations in synaptic strength correlate with changes in the morphological appearance of the spine head and neck. Therefore, it is important to get a better understanding of the nanoscale organization of the actin cytoskeleton in dendritic spines. A periodic organization of the actin/spectrin lattice was recently discovered in axons and a small fraction of dendrites using super-resolution microscopy. Here we use a small probe phalloidin-Atto647N, to label F-actin in mature hippocampal primary neurons and in living hippocampal slices. STED nanoscopy reveals that in contrast to β-II spectrin antibody labelling, phalloidin-Atto647N stains periodic actin structures in all dendrites and the neck of nearly all dendritic spines, including filopodia-like spines. These findings extend the current view on F-actin organization in dendritic spines and may provide new avenues for understanding the structural changes in the spine neck during induction of synaptic plasticity, active organelle transport or tethering.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Actin Cytoskeleton / metabolism*
  • Actins / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Dendritic Spines / metabolism*
  • Hippocampus / cytology
  • Hippocampus / metabolism*
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar


  • Actins