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J Neurosci. 2006 Mar 15;26(11):3021-9.

Remodeling of synaptic structure in sensory cortical areas in vivo.

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  • 1Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, Picower Center for Learning and Memory, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139, USA.


Although plastic changes are known to occur in developing and adult cortex, it remains unclear whether these changes require remodeling of cortical circuitry whereby synapses are formed and eliminated or whether they rely on changes in the strength of existing synapses. To determine the structural stability of dendritic spines and axon terminals in vivo, we chose two approaches. First, we performed time-lapse two-photon imaging of dendritic spine motility of layer 5 pyramidal neurons in juvenile [postnatal day 28 (P28)] mice in visual, auditory, and somatosensory cortices. We found that there were differences in basal rates of dendritic spine motility of the same neuron type in different cortices, with visual cortex exhibiting the least structural dynamics. Rewiring visual input into the auditory cortex at birth, however, failed to alter dendritic spine motility, suggesting that structural plasticity rates might be intrinsic to the cortical region. Second, we investigated the persistence of both the presynaptic (axon terminals) and postsynaptic (dendritic spine) structures in young adult mice (P40-P61), using chronic in vivo two-photon imaging in different sensory areas. Both terminals and spines were relatively stable, with >80% persisting over a 3 week period in all sensory regions. Axon terminals were more stable than dendritic spines. These data suggest that changes in network function during adult learning and memory might occur through changes in the strength and efficacy of existing synapses as well as some remodeling of connectivity through the loss and gain of synapses.

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