Dendritic spines are a key structure in neuronal plasticity. Enhanced activity is commonly associated with an increase in spine size and density. Purkinje cell dendrites are characterized by a proximal and a distal compartment on which climbing fibers and parallel fibers, respectively, impinge. The proximal region has a very low spine density, whereas the distal region has a high density. Previous experiments showed that after climbing fiber deletion, Purkinje cells become hyperactive, and a large number of spines develop on the proximal dendrites. Here we show that the same hyperspiny transformation occurs in the proximal dendrites of adult Purkinje cells by depressing electrical activity with tetrodotoxin. Thus, spines in different dendritic compartments are created or maintained independently from the level of Purkinje cell-firing rate and when the afferent activity is blocked. This conclusion supports the view that spinogenesis is the expression of an intrinsic program and the two regions of the dendritic tree respond differently to activity block because of differences in the inputs that they receive. On tetrodotoxin treatment, climbing fibers become atrophic and may sprout thin collateral ramifications directed mainly toward the granular layer. All changes are reversible on tetrodotoxin removal. Therefore, Purkinje cells provide a model where spines in different compartments of the same neuron are differently regulated by the activity of their local afferents. In addition, electrical activity is also essential to maintain the full climbing fiber innervation.
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