Dendritic Spines Shape Analysis—Classification or Clusterization? Perspective

Ekaterina Pchitskaya, Ilya Bezprozvanny

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


Dendritic spines are small protrusions from the dendrite membrane, where contact with neighboring axons is formed in order to receive synaptic input. Changes in size, shape, and density of synaptic spines are associated with learning and memory, and observed after drug abuse in a variety of neurodegenerative, neurodevelopmental, and psychiatric disorders. Due to the preeminent importance of synaptic spines, there have been major efforts into developing techniques that enable visualization and analysis of dendritic spines in cultured neurons, in fixed slices and in intact brain tissue. The classification of synaptic spines into predefined morphological groups is a standard approach in neuroscience research, where spines are divided into fixed categories such as thin, mushroom, and stubby subclasses. This study examines accumulated evidence that supports the existence of dendritic spine shapes as a continuum rather than separated classes. Using new approaches and software tools we reflect on complex dendritic spine shapes, positing that understanding of their highly dynamic nature is required to perform analysis of their morphology. The study discusses and compares recently developed algorithms that rely on clusterization rather than classification, therefore enabling new levels of spine shape analysis. We reason that improved methods of analysis may help to investigate a link between dendritic spine shape and its function, facilitating future studies of learning and memory as well as studies of brain disorders.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number31
JournalFrontiers in Synaptic Neuroscience
StatePublished - Sep 30 2020


  • classification
  • clusterization
  • dendritic spines
  • mushroom spine
  • neuronal morphology
  • stubby spine
  • thin spine

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Cell Biology


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