A large-scale nanoscopy and biochemistry analysis of postsynaptic dendritic spines

Nat Neurosci. 2021 Aug;24(8):1151-1162. doi: 10.1038/s41593-021-00874-w. Epub 2021 Jun 24.


Dendritic spines, the postsynaptic compartments of excitatory neurotransmission, have different shapes classified from 'stubby' to 'mushroom-like'. Whereas mushroom spines are essential for adult brain function, stubby spines disappear during brain maturation. It is still unclear whether and how they differ in protein composition. To address this, we combined electron microscopy and quantitative biochemistry with super-resolution microscopy to annotate more than 47,000 spines for more than 100 synaptic targets. Surprisingly, mushroom and stubby spines have similar average protein copy numbers and topologies. However, an analysis of the correlation of each protein to the postsynaptic density mass, used as a marker of synaptic strength, showed substantially more significant results for the mushroom spines. Secretion and trafficking proteins correlated particularly poorly to the strength of stubby spines. This suggests that stubby spines are less likely to adequately respond to dynamic changes in synaptic transmission than mushroom spines, which possibly explains their loss during brain maturation.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Brain / ultrastructure
  • Dendritic Spines / metabolism*
  • Dendritic Spines / ultrastructure*
  • Microscopy, Electron, Transmission
  • Post-Synaptic Density / metabolism*
  • Post-Synaptic Density / ultrastructure*
  • Proteome
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Synaptic Transmission / physiology


  • Proteome