Finding the key to dendritic spine development

2013

Challenge

Normal brain function requires proper synaptic connections. In schizophrenia, the number of dendritic spines—small protrusions from dendrites that help convey neural signals—is reduced, resulting in impaired neuronal connections and cognition. However, the mechanism behind these changes is unknown.

Advance

IRP researchers led by Zheng Li, Ph.D., studied a mouse model of schizophrenia and found an age-dependent role for dopamine D2 receptors (D2R) in dendritic spine development. They showed that, in these mice, D2R over-activation during adolescence led to deficient dendritic spines and impairments in neuronal circuits and working memory.

Impact

Dr. Li’s research revealed a previously unknown function for D2R in the development of synaptic connections, suggesting that targeted treatments for aberrant D2R activity during adolescence may prevent cognitive impairment.

Publications

Jia J-M, Zhao J, Hu Z, Lindberg D, Li Z. (2013). Age-dependent regulation of synaptic connections by dopamine D2 receptors. Nat Neurosci. 16(11), 1627-36.

Comment: Yin, DM, Xiong WC, Mei L. (2013). Adolescent dopamine slows spine maturation. Nat Neurosci. 16(11), 1514-6.