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Mechanical Principles Governing the Shapes of Dendritic Spines


Dendritic spines are small, bulbous protrusions along the dendrites of neurons and are sites of excitatory postsynaptic activity. The morphology of spines has been implicated in their function in synaptic plasticity and their shapes have been well-characterized, but the potential mechanics underlying their shape development and maintenance have not yet been fully understood. In this work, we explore the mechanical principles that could underlie specific shapes using a minimal biophysical model of membrane-actin interactions. Using this model, we first identify the possible force regimes that give rise to the classic spine shapes-stubby, filopodia, thin, and mushroom-shaped spines. We also use this model to investigate how the spine neck might be stabilized using periodic rings of actin or associated proteins. Finally, we use this model to predict that the cooperation between force generation and ring structures can regulate the energy landscape of spine shapes across a wide range of tensions. Thus, our study provides insights into how mechanical aspects of actin-mediated force generation and tension can play critical roles in spine shape maintenance.

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