Structural alterations of dendritic spines induced by neural degeneration of their presynaptic afferents

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    Morphological parameters were compared for dendritic spines of spiny stellate neurons in layer IV of the barrel region of mouse somatosensory cortex, which synapse with degenerated thalamocortical afferents (TC spines) and with intact, unidentified axon terminals (UI spines). Spiny stellate neurons were labeled for light and electron microscopic identification by Golgi impregnation and gold toning. Dendritic spines were examined in series of thin sections, and TC spines were ultrastructurally detectable because of the degeneration‐induced characteristic appearance of the TC axon terminals. Results show that the means of the width of the spine head and of the length of the spine stalk were significantly higher in TC spines than in UI spines by about 11 and 25%, respectively. The variability of these two morphological parameters was significantly lower for TC spines. The mean of the spine stalk width at the narrowest cross section of the stalk was about 0.12 μm, with no significant difference observed between the two spine groups. No specific relationship was found in either the TC or the UI groups of spines between the length of the spine stalk and the width of the spine stalk at its narrowest profile. As structural features typifying transneuronal degeneration were not observed along the dendritic spines examined, it is speculated that the morphological differences encountered between the TC and UI spines may result, at least in part, from the degeneration‐induced synaptic inactivity of the TC axospinous synapses, rather than exclusively from any direct effects of the degeneration process.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)210-222
    Number of pages13
    Issue number3
    StatePublished - 1 Jan 1989

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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