Dendrites extend from the cell body of the neuron and are specialized for processing synaptic information. Dendritic arbors assume diverse forms, branching in characteristic spatial domains where they receive specific synaptic inputs. Synaptic inputs occur directly on the shaft of some dendrites, but other dendrites have dendritic spines or specialized enlargements that host synapses. These specializations also occur in many different forms related both to local connectivity and the need for compartmentalization of molecular signaling. The use of three-dimensional reconstructions from serial section electron microscopy has shown that these dendritic synaptic specializations differ widely in dimensions, distribution, and intracellular composition. The shape and composition of dendrites and their synaptic specializations are influenced throughout life by genes, environment, learning, memory, and neuropathological conditions. Therefore, understanding dendrite structure is essential to understanding dendrite function.
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