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Neural Plasticity
Volume 2016 (2016), Article ID 6170509, 11 pages
Research Article

Large and Small Dendritic Spines Serve Different Interacting Functions in Hippocampal Synaptic Plasticity and Homeostasis

Department of Neuroscience, Physiology and Pharmacology, University College London, London WC1E 6BT, UK

Received 7 July 2015; Revised 2 September 2015; Accepted 11 October 2015

Academic Editor: Bryen A. Jordan

Copyright © 2016 Joshua J. W. Paulin et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


The laying down of memory requires strong stimulation resulting in specific changes in synaptic strength and corresponding changes in size of dendritic spines. Strong stimuli can also be pathological, causing a homeostatic response, depressing and shrinking the synapse to prevent damage from too much Ca2+ influx. But do all types of dendritic spines serve both of these apparently opposite functions? Using confocal microscopy in organotypic slices from mice expressing green fluorescent protein in hippocampal neurones, the size of individual spines along sections of dendrite has been tracked in response to application of tetraethylammonium. This strong stimulus would be expected to cause both a protective homeostatic response and long-term potentiation. We report separation of these functions, with spines of different sizes reacting differently to the same strong stimulus. The immediate shrinkage of large spines suggests a homeostatic protective response during the period of potential danger. In CA1, long-lasting growth of small spines subsequently occurs consolidating long-term potentiation but only after the large spines return to their original size. In contrast, small spines do not change in dentate gyrus where potentiation does not occur. The separation in time of these changes allows clear functional differentiation of spines of different sizes.