Dendritic Spine Density and Dynamics of Layer 5 Pyramidal Neurons of the Primary Motor Cortex Are Elevated With Aging

Cereb Cortex. 2020 Mar 21;30(2):767-777. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhz124.


It is well established that motor impairment often occurs alongside healthy aging, leading to problems with fine motor skills and coordination. Although previously thought to be caused by neuronal death accumulating across the lifespan, it is now believed that the source of this impairment instead stems from more subtle changes in neural connectivity. The dendritic spine is a prime target for exploration of this problem because it is the postsynaptic partner of most excitatory synapses received by the pyramidal neuron, a cortical cell that carries much of the information processing load in the cerebral cortex. We repeatedly imaged the same dendrites in young adult and aged mouse motor cortex over the course of 1 month to look for differences in the baseline state of the dendritic spine population. These experiments reveal increased dendritic spine density, without obvious changes in spine clustering, occurring at the aged dendrite. Additionally, aged dendrites exhibit elevated spine turnover and stabilization alongside decreased long-term spine survival. These results suggest that at baseline the aged motor cortex may exist in a perpetual state of relative instability and attempts at compensation. This phenotype of aging may provide clues for future targets of aging-related motor impairment remediation.

Keywords: apical dendrite; cognitive impairment; in vivo imaging; spine clustering; structural plasticity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aging / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Dendritic Spines / physiology*
  • Female
  • Male
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Motor Cortex / cytology*
  • Motor Cortex / physiology*
  • Pyramidal Cells / cytology*
  • Pyramidal Cells / physiology*