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Trends Neurosci. 2011 Apr;34(4):177-87. doi: 10.1016/j.tins.2011.02.001.

Experience-dependent structural plasticity in the cortex.

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Department of Molecular, Cell and Developmental Biology, University of California Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz, CA 95064, USA.


Synapses are the fundamental units of neuronal circuits. Synaptic plasticity can occur through changes in synaptic strength, as well as through the addition/removal of synapses. Two-photon microscopy in combination with fluorescence labeling offers a powerful tool to peek into the living brain and follow structural reorganization at individual synapses. Time-lapse imaging depicts a dynamic picture in which experience-dependent plasticity of synaptic structures varies between different cortical regions and layers, as well as between neuronal subtypes. Recent studies have demonstrated that the formation and elimination of synaptic structures happens rapidly in a subpopulation of cortical neurons during various sensorimotor learning experiences, and that stabilized synaptic structures are associated with long lasting memories for the task. Therefore, circuit plasticity, mediated by structural remodeling, provides an underlying mechanism for learning and memory.

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