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Parkinsonism Relat Disord. 2009 Dec;15 Suppl 3:S156-61. doi: 10.1016/S1353-8020(09)70805-3.

Striatal spine plasticity in Parkinson's disease: pathological or not?

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Yerkes National Primate Research Center and Department of Neurology, Emory University, Atlanta, GA 30322, USA.


Parkinson's disease (PD) is characterized by a dramatic loss of dopamine that underlies complex structural and functional changes in striatal projection neurons. A key alteration that has been reported in various rodent models and PD patients is a significant reduction in striatal dendritic spine density. Our recent findings indicate that striatal spine loss is also a prominent feature of parkinsonism in MPTP-treated monkeys. In these animals, striatal spine plasticity is tightly linked with the degree of striatal dopamine denervation. It affects predominantly the sensorimotor striatal territory (i.e. the post-commissural putamen) and targets both direct and indirect striatofugal neurons. However, electron microscopic 3D reconstruction studies demonstrate that the remaining spines in the dopamine-denervated striatum of parkinsonian monkeys undergo major morphological and ultrastructural changes characteristic of increased synaptic efficacy. Although both corticostriatal and thalamostriatal glutamatergic afferents display such plastic changes, the ultrastructural features of pre- and post-synaptic elements at these synapses are consistent with a higher strength of corticostriatal synapses over thalamic inputs in both normal and pathological conditions. Thus, striatal projection neurons and their glutamatergic afferents are endowed with a high degree of structural and functional plasticity. In parkinsonism, the striatal dopamine denervation induces major spine loss on medium spiny neurons and generates a significant remodeling of corticostriatal and thalamostriatal glutamatergic synapses, consistent with increased synaptic transmission. Future studies are needed to further characterize the mechanisms underlying striatal spine plasticity, and determine if it represents a pathological feature or compensatory process of PD.

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