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J Neurosci. 2004 Aug 4;24(31):6928-38.

A morphological correlate of synaptic scaling in visual cortex.

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Department of Neuroscience, Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island 02912, USA.


We studied the response of dendritic spines in the thalamic-recipient zone of rat visual cortex to simple manipulations of the visual environment. We measured the morphologies of a total of 3824 spines located on the basal dendrites of 60 layer 3 pyramidal cells. As expected from previous studies, we found a significantly lower spine density in dark-reared animals at postnatal day 30 (P30) compared with light-reared controls. Additional analysis revealed that the spines in dark-reared animals were significantly shorter and more bulbous than in light-reared animals. When these two results were combined, we found that the total synaptic area per unit length of dendrite was conserved, compatible with the phenomenon of "synaptic scaling." We also found that the increase in average spine head diameter is reversed by 10 d of light exposure (starting at P20), but surprisingly, the decrease in spine density is not. Thus, not all effects of dark rearing can be reversed by subsequent visual experience, even when the experience occurs during the third postnatal week.

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