The dynamics of free calcium in dendritic spines in response to repetitive synaptic input

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Science  05 Jun 1987:
Vol. 236, Issue 4806, pp. 1311-1315
DOI: 10.1126/science.3495885


Increased levels of intracellular calcium at either pre- or postsynaptic sites are thought to precede changes in synaptic strength. Thus, to induce long-term potentiation in the hippocampus, periods of intense synaptic stimulation would have to transiently raise the levels of cytosolic calcium at postsynaptic sites--dendritic spines in the majority of cases. Since direct experimental verification of this hypothesis is not possible at present, calcium levels have been studied by numerically solving the appropriate electro-diffusion equations for two different postsynaptic structures. Under the assumption that voltage-dependent calcium channels are present on dendritic spines, free intracellular calcium in spines can reach micromolar levels after as few as seven spikes in 20 milliseconds. Moreover, a short, but high-frequency, burst of presynaptic activity is more effective in raising levels of calcium and especially of the calcium-calmodulin complex than sustained low-frequency activity. This behavior is different from that seen at the soma of a typical vertebrate neuron.