The Diversity of Spine Synapses in Animals

Ronald S. Petralia, Ya Xian Wang, Mark P. Mattson, Pamela J. Yao

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Here we examine the structure of the various types of spine synapses throughout the animal kingdom. Based on available evidence, we suggest that there are two major categories of spine synapses: invaginating and non-invaginating, with distributions that vary among different groups of animals. In the simplest living animals with definitive nerve cells and synapses, the cnidarians and ctenophores, most chemical synapses do not form spine synapses. But some cnidarians have invaginating spine synapses, especially in photoreceptor terminals of motile cnidarians with highly complex visual organs, and also in some mainly sessile cnidarians with rapid prey capture reflexes. This association of invaginating spine synapses with complex sensory inputs is retained in the evolution of higher animals in photoreceptor terminals and some mechanoreceptor synapses. In contrast to invaginating spine synapse, non-invaginating spine synapses have been described only in animals with bilateral symmetry, heads and brains, associated with greater complexity in neural connections. This is apparent already in the simplest bilaterians, the flatworms, which can have well-developed non-invaginating spine synapses in some cases. Non-invaginating spine synapses diversify in higher animal groups. We also discuss the functional advantages of having synapses on spines and more specifically, on invaginating spines. And finally we discuss pathologies associated with spine synapses, concentrating on those systems and diseases where invaginating spine synapses are involved.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-43
Number of pages43
JournalNeuroMolecular Medicine
StateAccepted/In press - May 26 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Crest synapse
  • Dendrite
  • Excrescence
  • Gemmule
  • Invaginating
  • Photoreceptor
  • Postsynaptic

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Molecular Medicine
  • Neurology


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