Dendritic spines host >90 percent of excitatory synapses;they are lost or have abnormal structure in many developmental disorders that disrupt central nervous system function. The overall goal is to understand the role of spine and synapse structure in the normal development of learning and memory. Long-term potentiation (LTP) is a synaptic model of learning and memory well-suited to investigate this process. Spines are thought to be important because they sequester core structures and molecules needed for the protein synthesis-dependent or "late" phase of LTP (L-LTP) lasting >3hr. A clear understanding requires the nanometer resolution of 3D reconstruction from serial section electron microscopy, an approach pioneered in this laboratory. Rigorous experiments are proposed to test whether formation of dendritic spines and structural synaptic plasticity provide general mechanisms for the developmental regulation of L-LTP in hippocampus, a brain region crucial for learning and memory.
Aim 1 is to test the hypothesis that the abrupt onset of L-LTP at postnatal day (P)12 is associated with first occurrence of dendritic spines and capacity for structural synaptic plasticity. The experiments will determine what differentiates dendritic, axonal, spine, and synaptic structure and composition at P12, from P8 and P10 when L-LTP is not produced by one bout of TBS. They will test whether production of L-LTP at P12 results in a balanced elimination of small spines and enlargement of remaining synapses as occurs in mature hippocampus and whether pre- and postsynaptic structural remodeling are synchronized during development with the ability to express L-LTP.
Aim 2 is to test the hypothesis that dendritic spines are induced by TBS and then serve to sustain L-LTP after a second bout of TBS at P10, but not at P8, when multiple TBS do not produce L-LTP.
Aim 3 is to ascertain the developmental onset of L-LTP and its ultrastructural correlates in mouse hippocampus as a foundation for future work using genetic manipulations. The outcomes promise new insight into the synaptic basis of learning and memory, essential knowledge to design effective treatments for developmental brain disorders.

Public Health Relevance

Synapses are structurally disrupted in individuals with developmental brain disorders. Normal development must be characterized to draw conclusions about functional consequences of such disruption. Here the nanometer resolution of electron microscopy, and long-term potentiation, a synaptic mechanism of learning and memory, are combined to investigate the normal development of synapse structure and function.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
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Neurodifferentiation, Plasticity, and Regeneration Study Section (NDPR)
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Panchision, David M
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University of Texas Austin
Schools of Arts and Sciences
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Bell, Maria Elizabeth; Bourne, Jennifer N; Chirillo, Michael A et al. (2014) Dynamics of nascent and active zone ultrastructure as synapses enlarge during long-term potentiation in mature hippocampus. J Comp Neurol 522:3861-84
Cao, Guan; Harris, Kristen M (2014) Augmenting saturated LTP by broadly spaced episodes of theta-burst stimulation in hippocampal area CA1 of adult rats and mice. J Neurophysiol 112:1916-24
Bourne, Jennifer N; Chirillo, Michael A; Harris, Kristen M (2013) Presynaptic ultrastructural plasticity along CA3?CA1 axons during long-term potentiation in mature hippocampus. J Comp Neurol 521:3898-912
Kuwajima, Masaaki; Mendenhall, John M; Lindsey, Laurence F et al. (2013) Automated transmission-mode scanning electron microscopy (tSEM) for large volume analysis at nanoscale resolution. PLoS One 8:e59573