Synaptic clustering on dendritic branches enhances plasticity, input integration and neuronal firing. However, the mechanisms guiding axons to cluster synapses at appropriate sites along dendritic branches are poorly understood. We searched for such a mechanism by investigating the structural overlap between dendritic branches and axons in a simplified model of neuronal networks - the hippocampal cell culture. Using newly developed software, we converted images of meshes of overlapping axonal and dendrites into topological maps of intersections, enabling quantitative study of overlapping neuritic geometry at the resolution of single dendritic branch-to-branch and axon-to-branch crossings. Among dendro-dendritic crossing configurations, it was revealed that the orientations through which dendritic branches cross is a regulated attribute. While crossing angle distribution among branches thinner than 1 mm appeared to be random, dendritic branches 1 mm or wider showed a preference for crossing each other at angle ranges of either 50u-70u or 80u-90u. It was then found that the dendro-dendritic crossings themselves, as well as their selective angles, both affected the path of axonal growth. Axons displayed 4 fold stronger tendency to traverse within 2 mm of dendro-dendritic intersections than at farther distances, probably to minimize wiring length. Moreover, almost 70% of the 50u-70u dendro-denritic crossings were traversed by axons from the obtuse angle's zone, whereas only 15% traversed through the acute angle's zone. By contrast, axons showed no orientation restriction when traversing 80u-90 u crossings. When such traverse behavior was repeated by many axons, they converged in the vicinity of dendro-dendritic intersections, thereby clustering their synaptic connections. Thus, the vicinity of dendritic branch-to-branch crossings appears to be a regulated structure used by axons as a target for efficient wiring and as a preferred site for synaptic clustering. This synaptic clustering mechanism may enhance synaptic coactivity and plasticity.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
- General Agricultural and Biological Sciences