Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science


Anatomy & Neurobiology

First Advisor

Alex Meredith

Second Advisor

George Leichnetz

Third Advisor

Ben Churn


In the brain, the dendritic spine is a point of information exchange that extends the neuronal surface on which synapses occur, as well as facilitates and stabilizes those contacts. Furthermore, dendritic spines dynamically change in shape and number in response to a variety of factors. Dendritic spine numbers are reduced in mental retardation, enhanced during development, sensory enrichment or physical exercise, or fluctuate during the reproductive cycle. Thus, for a given neuron type, it might be expected that dendritic spine number might achieve a dynamic optimum. Indeed, many studies of spine density of pyramidal neurons in sensory cortex indicate that an average of ~1.4 spines/micron occurs is present (Briner et al., 2010). Most such studies examined dendritic spines from primary sensory areas which are dominated by inputs from a single sensory modality. However, there are a large number of neural regions that receive inputs from more than one sensory modality and it is hypothesized that spine density should increase to accommodate these additional inputs. To test this hypothesis, the present experiments used Golgi-Cox stained layer 2-3 pyramidal neurons from ferret primary somatosensory (S1) and auditory (A1) cortical regions, as well as from the higher-level rostral posterior parietal (PPr) and lateral rostral suprasylvian (LRSS) multisensory areas. Spine densities in S1 (avg 1.309 ± 0.247 spines/micron) and A1 (avg 1.343 ± 0.273 spines/micron) were measured to be significantly greater (p<0.05, t-test) than those observed in multisensory regions PPr (avg 1.242 ± 0.205 spines/micron) or LRSS (avg 1.099 ± 0.217 spines/micron). These results also indicate that spine densities are greater in primary (S1, A1) than in higher-level (PPr, LRSS) sensory areas. The functional consequences of such unexpected findings are discussed in light of potential biophysical differences between unisensory and multisensory neurons.


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