An essential feature for an organism to survive is to adapt and learn. Studies in the past decades have revealed that synaptic plasticity is a key cellular mechanism underlying learning and memory functions in the adult, and the refinement of neural connections during development. Memory and refinement of connections can last for a long period of time, and hence requires the corresponding structural changes to take place. Alterations in dendritic spine morphology (enlargement or shrinkage) and/or spine density (increase or decrease) have been shown to occur with synaptic modifications, and have been proposed to enable persistent, long-term modifications of synapses. In this chapter, we will review the basics of spine plasticity and its functional contributions to synaptic modification, with focus on modifications of spine morphology (enlargement and shrinkage).
Part of the book: Neuroplasticity