Slices have more synapses than perfusion-fixed hippocampus from both young and mature rats

Sergei A. Kirov, Karin E. Sorra, Kristen M. Harris

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

119 Scopus citations


Hippocampal slices have long been used to investigate properties of synaptic transmission and plasticity. Here, for the first time, synapses in slices have been compared quantitatively with synapses occurring in perfusion-fixed hippocampus, which is presumed to represent the natural in vivo state. Relative to perfusion-fixed hippocampus, a remarkable 40-50% increase in spine number occurs in adult hippocampal slices, and a 90% increase occurs in slices from postnatal day 21 rats. Serial EM shows that all of the dendritic spines have normal synapses with presynaptic and postsynaptic elements; however, not all spine types are affected uniformly. Stubby and mushroom spines increase in the adult slices, and thin, mushroom, and branched spines increase in the immature slices. More axonal boutons with multiple synapses occur in the slices, suggesting that the new synapses form on preexisting axonal boutons. The increase in spine and synapse number is evident within a couple of hours after preparing the slices. Once the initial spine induction has occurred, no further change occurs for up to 13 hr in vitro, the longest time investigated. Thus, the spine increase is occurring during a period when there is little or no synaptic activity during the first hour, and the subsequent stabilization in spine synapse numbers is occurring after synaptic activity returns in the slice. These findings suggest that spines form in response to the loss of synaptic activity when slices are removed from the rest of the brain and during the subsequent 1 hr recovery period.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2876-2886
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number8
StatePublished - Apr 15 1999
Externally publishedYes


  • CA1 pyramidal cell
  • Dendritic spines
  • Multiple-synapse boutons
  • Plasticity
  • Serial electron microscopy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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