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Experience-dependent plasticity of dendritic spines in the developing rat barrel cortex in vivo


Do changes in neuronal structure underlie cortical plasticity1,2? Here we used time-lapse two-photon microscopy3,4 of pyramidal neurons in layer 2/3 of developing rat barrel cortex5 to image the structural dynamics of dendritic spines and filopodia. We found that these protrusions were highly motile: spines and filopodia appeared, disappeared or changed shape over tens of minutes. To test whether sensory experience drives this motility we trimmed whiskers one to three days before imaging. Sensory deprivation markedly (40%) reduced protrusive motility in deprived regions of the barrel cortex during a critical period around postnatal days (P)11–13, but had no effect in younger (P8–10) or older (P14–16) animals. Unexpectedly, whisker trimming did not change the density, length or shape of spines and filopodia. However, sensory deprivation during the critical period degraded the tuning of layer 2/3 receptive fields. Thus sensory experience drives structural plasticity in dendrites, which may underlie the reorganization of neural circuits.

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Figure 1: High-resolution imaging of barrel cortex neurons infected with SIN–EGFP in vivo.
Figure 2: Motility of dendritic protrusions and their developmental regulation.
Figure 3: Effects of sensory deprivation on the motility of spiny protrusions.
Figure 4: Whisker trimming does not change the structure of spines and filopodia (P11–13).
Figure 5: Electrophysiology of layer 2/3 neurons.


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We thank B. Burbach and E. Nimchinsky for help with experiments, K. Greenwood for help with analysis, Z. Mainen, M. Maravall, E. Ruthazer and B. Sabatini for comments on the manuscript, and the Malinow laboratory for help with viruses. This work was supported by IBRO (BL), HFSP, the Mathers and Pew Foundations (K.S.) and an NIH training grant to SHNY Stony Brook (B.C.).

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Correspondence to Karel Svoboda.

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Lendvai, B., Stern, E., Chen, B. et al. Experience-dependent plasticity of dendritic spines in the developing rat barrel cortex in vivo. Nature 404, 876–881 (2000).

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