Increases in the number and/or the size of dendritic spines, sites of excitatory synapses, have been linked to different types of learning as well as synaptic plasticity in several brain regions, including the hippocampus, sensory cortex, motor cortex, and cerebellum. By contrast, a previous study reported that training on a maze task requiring the dorsal striatum has no effect on medium spiny neuron dendritic spines in this area. These findings might suggest brain region-specific differences in levels of plasticity as well as different cellular processes underlying different types of learning. No previous studies have investigated whether dendritic spine density changes may be localized to specific subpopulations of medium spiny neurons, nor have they examined dendritic spines in rats trained on a dorsolateral striatum-dependent maze task in comparison to rats exposed to the same type of maze in the absence of training. To address these questions further, we labeled medium spiny neurons with the lipophilic dye DiI and stained for the protein product of immediate early gene zif 268, an indirect marker of neuronal activation, in both trained and untrained groups. We found a small but significant increase in dendritic spine density on medium spiny neurons of the dorsolateral striatum after short-term intensive training, along with robust increases in the density of spines with mushroom morphology coincident with reductions in the density of spines with thin morphology. However, these results were not associated with zif 268 expression. Our findings suggest that short-term intensive training on a dorsolateral striatum-dependent maze task induces rapid increases in dendritic spine density and maturation on medium spiny neurons of the dorsolateral striatum, an effect which may contribute to early acquisition of the learned response in maze training.
Keywords: dendritic spines; dorsal striatum; medium spiny neurons; response learning; zif 268.
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