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Prog Brain Res. 2002;136:101-7.

Changing views of Cajal's neuron: the case of the dendritic spine.

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Department of Neurobiology, Weizmann Institute, Rehovot 76100, Israel.


Ever since dendritic spines were first described in detail by Santiago Ramón y Cajal, they were assumed to underlie the physical substrate of long term memory in the brain. Recent time-lapse imaging of dendritic spines in live tissue, using confocal microscopy, have revealed an amazingly plastic structure, which undergoes continuous changes in shape and size, not intuitively related to its assumed role in long term memory. Functionally, the spine is shown to be an independent cellular compartment, able to regulate calcium concentration independently of its parent dendrite. The shape of the spine is instrumental in regulating the link between the synapse and the parent dendrite such that longer spines have less impact on the dendrite than shorter ones. The spine can be formed, change its shape and disappear in response to afferent stimulation, in a dynamic fashion, indicating that spine morphology is an important vehicle for structuring synaptic interactions. While this role is crucial in the developing nervous system, large variations in spine densities in the adult brain indicate that tuning of synaptic impact may be a role of spines throughout the life of a neuron.

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