Dendritic spines are micron-sized protrusions that harbor the majority of excitatory synapses in the central nervous system. The head of the spine is connected to the dendritic shaft by a 50–400 nm thin membrane tube, called the spine neck, which has been hypothesized to confine biochemical and electric signals within the spine compartment. Such compartmentalization could minimize interspinal crosstalk and thereby support spine-specific synapse plasticity. However, to what extent compartmentalization is governed by spine morphology, and in particular the diameter of the spine neck, has remained unresolved. Here, we review recent advances in tool development – both experimental and theoretical – that facilitate studying the role of the spine neck in compartmentalization. Special emphasis is given to recent advances in microscopy methods and quantitative modeling applications as we discuss compartmentalization of biochemical signals, membrane receptors and electrical signals in spines. Multidisciplinary approaches should help to answer how dendritic spine architecture affects the cellular and molecular processes required for synapse maintenance and modulation.
- dendritic spine
- super-resolution microscopy