Despite decades of discussion in the neuroanatomical literature, the role of the synaptic spinule in synaptic development and function remains elusive. Canonically, spinules are finger-like projections that emerge from postsynaptic spines and can become enveloped by presynaptic boutons. When a presynaptic bouton encapsulates a spinule in this manner, the membrane apposition between the spinule and surrounding bouton can be significantly larger than the membrane interface at the synaptic active zone. Hence, spinules may represent a mechanism for extrasynaptic neuronal communication, and/or may function as structural anchors that increase the stability of cortical synapses. Yet despite their potential to impact synaptic function, we have little information on the percentages of developing and adult cortical bouton populations that contain spinules, the percentages of these cortical spinule-bearing boutons (SBBs) that contain spinules from distinct neuronal/glial origins, or whether the onset of activity or cortical plasticity are correlated with increased prevalence of cortical SBBs. Here, we employed 2D and 3D electron microscopy to determine the prevalence of spinules in excitatory presynaptic boutons at key developmental time points in the primary visual cortex (V1) of female and male ferrets. We find that the prevalence of SBBs in V1 increases across postnatal development, such that ~25% of excitatory boutons in late adolescent ferret V1 contain spinules. In addition, we find that a majority of spinules within SBBs at later developmental time points emerge from postsynaptic spines and adjacent boutons/axons, suggesting that synaptic spinules may enhance synaptic stability and allow for axo-axonal communication in mature sensory cortex.
bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience