Dendrites are the extensions of neurons that receive incoming information. Neurons have primary dendrites that further split off into secondary and tertiary dendritic branches. On each of these branches are thousands of synaptic connections with axons of neurons carrying incoming information. The result is a dendritic tree that is capable of receiving and integrating a wide array of information within a single neuron. This is one of the neurobiological mechanisms by which different components of a memory are thought to be joined.
Neurons are not born with dendrites and spines – they are acquired during a developmental process that takes many weeks (see here & here). During early development, the pattern of formation of dendrites and spines are sculpted by experience, as might be expected if dendrites and spines are anatomical structures involved in processing and storing sensory information. While a body of work has emerged suggesting adult-born neurons are involved in memory and behavior, no one has yet investigated whether experience is capable of altering the dendritic development of these new neurons. This paper by Tronel et al. is therefore very important because it is the first to look at this phenomenon. They show a dramatic acceleration of dendritic development in response to learning, suggesting a potentially powerful role for new neurons in storing and processing information.
Read the rest of this entry »