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Neuron. 2002 Jan 31;33(3):439-52.

The life cycle of Ca(2+) ions in dendritic spines.

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Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, 1 Bungtown Road, Cold Spring Harbor, NY 11724, USA.


Spine Ca(2+) is critical for the induction of synaptic plasticity, but the factors that control Ca(2+) handling in dendritic spines under physiological conditions are largely unknown. We studied [Ca(2+)] signaling in dendritic spines of CA1 pyramidal neurons and find that spines are specialized structures with low endogenous Ca(2+) buffer capacity that allows large and extremely rapid [Ca(2+)] changes. Under physiological conditions, Ca(2+) diffusion across the spine neck is negligible, and the spine head functions as a separate compartment on long time scales, allowing localized Ca(2+) buildup during trains of synaptic stimuli. Furthermore, the kinetics of Ca(2+) sources governs the time course of [Ca(2+)] signals and may explain the selective activation of long-term synaptic potentiation (LTP) and long-term depression (LTD) by NMDA-R-mediated synaptic Ca(2+).

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