Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2014 Jan 5; 369(1633): 20130157.
PMCID: PMC3843888 PMID: 24298158
Synaptic competition in structural plasticity and cognitive function
Connections between neurons can undergo long-lasting changes in synaptic strength correlating with changes in structure. These events require the synthesis of new proteins, the availability of which can lead to cooperative and competitive interactions between synapses for the expression of plasticity. These processes can occur over limited spatial distances and temporal periods, defining dendritic regions over which activity may be integrated and could lead to the physical rewiring of synapses into functional groups. Such clustering of inputs may increase the computational power of neurons by allowing information to be combined in a greater than additive manner. The availability of new proteins may be a key modulatory step towards activity-dependent, long-term growth or elimination of spines necessary for remodelling of connections. Thus, the aberrant growth or shrinkage of dendritic spines could occur if protein levels are misregulated. Indeed, such perturbations can be seen in several mental retardation disorders, wherein either too much or too little protein translation exists, matching an observed increase or decrease in spine density, respectively. Cellular events which alter protein availability could relieve a constraint on synaptic competition and disturb synaptic clustering mechanisms. These changes may be detrimental to modifications in neural circuitry following activity.