Small-Volume Effect Enables Robust, Sensitive, and Efficient Information Transfer in the Spine

Biophys J. 2017 Feb 28;112(4):813-826. doi: 10.1016/j.bpj.2016.12.043.


Why is the spine of a neuron so small that it can contain only small numbers of molecules and reactions inevitably become stochastic? We previously showed that, despite such noisy conditions, the spine exhibits robust, sensitive, and efficient features of information transfer using the probability of Ca2+ increase; however, the mechanisms are unknown. In this study, we show that the small volume effect enables robust, sensitive, and efficient information transfer in the spine volume, but not in the cell volume. In the spine volume, the intrinsic noise in reactions becomes larger than the extrinsic noise of input, resulting in robust information transfer despite input fluctuation. In the spine volume, stochasticity makes the Ca2+ increase occur with a lower intensity of input, causing higher sensitivity to lower intensity of input. The volume-dependency of information transfer increases its efficiency in the spine volume. Thus, we propose that the small-volume effect is the functional reason why the spine has to be so small.

MeSH terms

  • Calcium / metabolism
  • Dendritic Spines / metabolism*
  • Models, Neurological*
  • Purkinje Cells / cytology
  • Signal Transduction
  • Stochastic Processes


  • Calcium