Dendritic spine turnover

Dendritic spine turnover is the best-established morphological correlate of synaptic plasticity at the cellular level.

Abnormal spine turnover is associated with a variety of neuropsychiatric and neurodegenerative disorders, ranging from decreased synaptic plasticity in depression models to gradual loss of synapses in Alzheimer’s models.

Dendritic spines are minute cellular organelles (approx. 1-2 micrometers in size) that comprise the post-synaptic part of the cortical synapses (primarily glutamatergic).

dendritic spine turnover

Measurement of spine turnover can be done using single-photon microscopy (e.g., confocal) in cultured cells or in organotypic brain slices; however, the relevance of data obtained in these in vitro preparations is low compared to the intact brain in vivo.

Two-photon microscopy is the only technique that allows imaging dendritic spines and quantifying their dynamics (turnover) in a living mouse’s brain. We use the viral expression of fluorescent proteins, as well as “reporter” mice, for in vivo microscopic analysis of spine turnover.

Accumulating recent evidence shows that general anesthetics (including the commonly used Ketamine) have strong and lasting effects on spine turnover. This is why all spine imaging studies are performed at Neurotar in non-anesthetized, awake, and behaving mice. This type of studies is enabled by our proprietary device called the Mobile HomeCage (which was initially developed to facilitate our contract research studies in vigilo, i.e. in awake mice).

Study design

  • 2-5 groups, e.g., 1 placebo, 1-2 test compounds and optionally 1 positive control and/or 1 negative control
  • 3-5 imaging sessions: baseline -24 h, 0 h,  optionally 6 h, 24 h, optionally 72 h,  optionally 144 h
  • 1-3 imaging areas per animal
  • turnover of at least 150 individual dendritic spines per animal is quantified
  • report delivered 3-5 months after the study commencement

Options and extensions

  • Different drug administration routs: per oral (gavage), injections i.p., s.c., i.v. or i.t. (intrathecal)
  • Can be combined with PK measurements for biologics targeting/affecting synapses


Neurotar’s papers

  • Pryazhnikov E, Mugantseva E, Casarotto P, Kolikova J, Fred SM, Toptunov D, Afzalov R, Hotulainen P, Voikar V, Terry-Lorenzo R, Engel S, Kirov S, Castren E, Khiroug L. (2018)  Longitudinal two-photon imaging in somatosensory cortex of behaving mice reveals dendritic spine formation enhancement by subchronic administration of low-dose ketamine.  Sci Rep. 24;8(1):6464. doi: 10.1038/s41598-018-24933-8.

Other relevant papers