Changes in the dendritic branching of adult mammalian neurones revealed by repeated imaging in situ
A major obstacle to understanding the mechanism of long-term change in the vertebrate nervous system has been the inability to observe the same nerve cell at different times during the life of an animal. The possibility that changes in neural connectivity underlie the remarkable flexibility of the nervous systems of mammals has therefore not been tested by direct observation. Here, we report studies in which we have visualized the same neurone in the superior cervical ganglion of young adult mice at intervals of up to 33 days. This collection of nerve cells is particularly accessible and therefore well suited to our approach. We find that the dendritic branches of the neurones examined change appreciably over intervals of 2 weeks or more; some branches retract, others elongate and others seem to form de novo. The apparent remodelling of these postsynaptic elements implies that the synaptic connections of these cells normally undergo significant rearrangement beyond what is usually considered to be the developmental period.