Actin filaments and microtubules in dendritic spines


Address correspondence and reprint requests to Dr. Tomoaki Shirao, Department of Neurobiology and Behavior, Gunma University Graduate School of Medicine, Maebashi 371-8511, Japan. E-mails:


Dendritic spines are small protrusions emerging from their parent dendrites, and their morphological changes are involved in synaptic plasticity. These tiny structures are composed of thousands of different proteins belonging to several subfamilies such as membrane receptors, scaffold proteins, signal transduction proteins, and cytoskeletal proteins. Actin filaments in dendritic spines consist of double helix of actin protomers decorated with drebrin and ADF/cofilin, and the balance of the two is closely related to the actin dynamics, which may govern morphological and functional synaptic plasticity. During development, the accumulation of drebrin-binding type actin filaments is one of the initial events occurring at the nascent excitatory postsynaptic site, and plays a pivotal role in spine formation as well as small GTPases. It has been recently reported that microtubules transiently appear in dendritic spines in correlation with synaptic activity. Interestingly, it is suggested that microtubule dynamics might couple with actin dynamics. In this review, we will summarize the contribution of both actin filaments and microtubules to the formation and regulation of dendritic spines, and further discuss the role of cytoskeletal deregulation in neurological disorders.