Geometric principles of second messenger dynamics in dendritic spines

Sci Rep. 2019 Aug 12;9(1):11676. doi: 10.1038/s41598-019-48028-0.


Dendritic spines are small, bulbous protrusions along dendrites in neurons and play a critical role in synaptic transmission. Dendritic spines come in a variety of shapes that depend on their developmental state. Additionally, roughly 14-19% of mature spines have a specialized endoplasmic reticulum called the spine apparatus. How does the shape of a postsynaptic spine and its internal organization affect the spatio-temporal dynamics of short timescale signaling? Answers to this question are central to our understanding the initiation of synaptic transmission, learning, and memory formation. In this work, we investigated the effect of spine and spine apparatus size and shape on the spatio-temporal dynamics of second messengers using mathematical modeling using reaction-diffusion equations in idealized geometries (ellipsoids, spheres, and mushroom-shaped). Our analyses and simulations showed that in the short timescale, spine size and shape coupled with the spine apparatus geometries govern the spatiotemporal dynamics of second messengers. We show that the curvature of the geometries gives rise to pseudo-harmonic functions, which predict the locations of maximum and minimum concentrations along the spine head. Furthermore, we showed that the lifetime of the concentration gradient can be fine-tuned by localization of fluxes on the spine head and varying the relative curvatures and distances between the spine apparatus and the spine head. Thus, we have identified several key geometric determinants of how the spine head and spine apparatus may regulate the short timescale chemical dynamics of small molecules that control synaptic plasticity.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Calcium / metabolism*
  • Computer Simulation
  • Cyclic AMP / metabolism*
  • Dendritic Spines / metabolism*
  • Dendritic Spines / ultrastructure
  • Endoplasmic Reticulum / metabolism
  • Endoplasmic Reticulum / ultrastructure
  • Humans
  • Inositol 1,4,5-Trisphosphate / metabolism*
  • Mice
  • Models, Neurological*
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology
  • Second Messenger Systems / physiology*
  • Synapses / metabolism
  • Synapses / ultrastructure
  • Synaptic Transmission / physiology*


  • Inositol 1,4,5-Trisphosphate
  • Cyclic AMP
  • Calcium