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Cereb Cortex. 2014 Feb;24(2):377-84. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhs317. Epub 2012 Oct 18.

Structural dynamics of dendritic spines are influenced by an environmental enrichment: an in vivo imaging study.

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Department of Translational Brain Research, DZNE-German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases, Munich, Germany.


Sensory experience alters neuronal circuits, which is believed to form the basis for learning and memory. On a microscopic level, structural changes of the neuronal network are prominently observable as experience-dependent addition and removal of cortical dendritic spines. By environmental enrichment, we here applied broad sensory stimulation to mice and followed the consequences to dendritic spines in the somatosensory cortex utilizing in vivo microscopy. Additionally to apical dendrites of layer V neurons, which are typically analyzed in in vivo imaging experiments, we investigated basal dendrites of layer II/III neurons and describe for the first time experience-dependent alterations on this population of dendrites. On both classes of cortical dendrites, enriched environment-induced substantial changes determined by increases in density and turnover of dendritic spines. Previously established spines were lost after enriched stimulation. A fraction of experience-induced gained spines survived for weeks, which might therefore be functionally integrated into the neuronal network. Furthermore, we observed an increased density of spines that appeared only transiently. Together, we speculate that the cognitive benefits seen in environmental-enriched animals might be a consequence of both, a higher connectivity of the neuronal network due to more established synapses and an enhanced flexibility due to more transient spines.


2-photon in vivo imaging; dendritic spine; enriched environment; structural plasticity

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