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After 100 years, understanding the electrical role of dendritic spines
Date:12/5/2012

lbous spine head at the end of a thin tube, or neck. Each spine head contains one or more synapses and is located in very close proximity to an axon coming from another neuron.

Scientists have gained insight into the chemical properties of dendritic spines: receptors on their surface are known to respond to a number of neurotransmitters, such as glutamate and glycine, released by other neurons. But because of the spines' incredibly small size roughly 1/100 the diameter of a human hair their electrical properties have been harder to study

In this study, researchers at the HHMI Janelia Farm Research Campus used three experimental techniques to assess the electrical properties of dendritic spines in rats' hippocampi, a part of the brain that plays an important role in memory and spatial navigation. First, the researchers used two miniature electrodes to administer current and measure its voltage response at different sites throughout the dendrites.

They also used a technique called "glutamate uncaging," a process that involves releasing glutamate, an excitatory neurotransmitter, to evoke electrical responses from specific synapses, as if the synapse had just received a signal from a neighboring neuron. A third process utilized a calcium-sensitive dye calcium is a chemical indicator of a synaptic event injected into the neuron to provide an optical representation of voltage changes within the spine.

At Northwestern, researchers used computational models of real neurons reconstructed from the same type of rat neurons to build a 3D representation of the neuron with accurate information about each dendrites' placement, diameter, and electrical properties. The computer simulations, in concert with the experiments, indicated that spines' electrical resistance is consistent throughout the dendrites, regardless of where on the dendritic tree they are located.

While much research is still needed to gain a full understanding of
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Contact: Megan Fellman
fellman@northwestern.edu
847-491-3115
Northwestern University
Source:Eurekalert  

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