Analysis of dendritic spine morphology in cultured CNS neurons

Deepak P. Srivastava, Kevin M. Woolfrey, Peter Penzes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

50 Scopus citations


Dendritic spines are the sites of the majority of excitatory connections within the brain, and form the post-synaptic compartment of synapses. These structures are rich in actin and have been shown to be highly dynamic. In response to classical Hebbian plasticity as well as neuromodulatory signals, dendritic spines can change shape and number, which is thought to be critical for the refinement of neural circuits and the processing and storage of information within the brain. Within dendritic spines, a complex network of proteins link extracellular signals with the actin cyctoskeleton allowing for control of dendritic spine morphology and number. Neuropathological studies have demonstrated that a number of disease states, ranging from schizophrenia to autism spectrum disorders, display abnormal dendritic spine morphology or numbers. Moreover, recent genetic studies have identified mutations in numerous genes that encode synaptic proteins, leading to suggestions that these proteins may contribute to aberrant spine plasticity that, in part, underlie the pathophysiology of these disorders. In order to study the potential role of these proteins in controlling dendritic spine morphologies/number, the use of cultured cortical neurons offers several advantages. Firstly, this system allows for high-resolution imaging of dendritic spines in fixed cells as well as time-lapse imaging of live cells. Secondly, this in vitro system allows for easy manipulation of protein function by expression of mutant proteins, knockdown by shRNA constructs, or pharmacological treatments. These techniques allow researchers to begin to dissect the role of disease-associated proteins and to predict how mutations of these proteins may function in vivo.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2794
JournalJournal of Visualized Experiments
Issue number53
StatePublished - Jul 2011


  • Brain
  • Confocal microscopy
  • Cortex
  • Cortical neurons
  • Excitatory synapse
  • Issue 53
  • Neuroscience
  • Primary culture
  • Remodeling
  • Time-lapse imaging

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Chemical Engineering(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)
  • Neuroscience(all)


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