Long-term in vivo imaging of experience-dependent synaptic plasticity in adult cortex

Abstract

Do new synapses form in the adult cortex to support experience-dependent plasticity? To address this question, we repeatedly imaged individual pyramidal neurons in the mouse barrel cortex over periods of weeks. We found that, although dendritic structure is stable, some spines appear and disappear. Spine lifetimes vary greatly: stable spines, about 50% of the population, persist for at least a month, whereas the remainder are present for a few days or less. Serial-section electron microscopy of imaged dendritic segments revealed retrospectively that spine sprouting and retraction are associated with synapse formation and elimination. Experience-dependent plasticity of cortical receptive fields was accompanied by increased synapse turnover. Our measurements suggest that sensory experience drives the formation and elimination of synapses and that these changes might underlie adaptive remodelling of neural circuits.

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Figure 1: Chronic time-lapse imaging of dendritic spines in the barrel cortex in vivo.
Figure 2: Dendritic branches are stable over weeks.
Figure 3: New spines establish synapses.
Figure 4: In vivo imaging of putative synapse formation and elimination.
Figure 5: Spines appear and disappear with broadly distributed lifetimes, without changing spine density.
Figure 6: Altering sensory experience increases spine turnover rates.
Figure 7: Experience-dependent receptive field plasticity.

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Acknowledgements

We thank M. Chklovskii for useful discussions, E. Ruthazer, W. Thompson, R. Weinberg and members of our laboratory for a critical reading of the manuscript, T. Pologruto and B. Sabatini for programming, and B. Burbach, P. O'Brien and A. Holtmaat for help with experiments. This work was supported by the Pew, Mathers, and Lehrman Foundations, HFSP and NIH (K.S.), and the Swiss National Science Foundation and HFSP (E.W.). B.C. is a predoctoral student at SUNY Stony Brook.

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Correspondence to Karel Svoboda.

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Trachtenberg, J., Chen, B., Knott, G. et al. Long-term in vivo imaging of experience-dependent synaptic plasticity in adult cortex. Nature 420, 788–794 (2002). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature01273

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