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Nature. 2000 Apr 20;404(6780):876-81.

Experience-dependent plasticity of dendritic spines in the developing rat barrel cortex in vivo.

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Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, New York 11724, USA.


Do changes in neuronal structure underlie cortical plasticity? Here we used time-lapse two-photon microscopy of pyramidal neurons in layer 2/3 of developing rat barrel cortex to image the structural dynamics of dendritic spines and filopodia. We found that these protrusions were highly motile: spines and filopodia appeared, disappeared or changed shape over tens of minutes. To test whether sensory experience drives this motility we trimmed whiskers one to three days before imaging. Sensory deprivation markedly (approximately 40%) reduced protrusive motility in deprived regions of the barrel cortex during a critical period around postnatal days (P)11-13, but had no effect in younger (P8-10) or older (P14-16) animals. Unexpectedly, whisker trimming did not change the density, length or shape of spines and filopodia. However, sensory deprivation during the critical period degraded the tuning of layer 2/3 receptive fields. Thus sensory experience drives structural plasticity in dendrites, which may underlie the reorganization of neural circuits.

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