In mice, the synaptic connections between neocortical neurons are continuously sculpted by spontaneous and sensory-evoked activity, even in adults. For example, most sensory representations in the neocortex change in size and/or location upon peripheral lesions and amputations, or even after more subtle changes in experience throughout life. This so termed functional plasticity depends on changes in the strength of established synaptic connections, but could also involve structural alterations, including synapse formation and elimination. Learning and experience-dependent functional and structural synaptic changes are intimately related, but the underlying mechanisms are not clear. We study the link between structural and functional aspects of synaptic plasticity in the adult brain, and explore how this interplay is involved in long term memory storage, the acquisition of training/experience- based skills, and in changes of cortical circuits after lesions.
We address these questions using live imaging techniques and electrophysiology. We monitor functional and structural synaptic changes in the mouse cortex in vivo in paradigms for sensory experience and learning.
The pictures show fluorescently labeled neurons, dendrites and axons in the cortex, imaged through a cranial window using 2-photon laser scanning microscopy.