Dendrites are extensions of the cell body of the neuron specialized for receiving and processing synaptic inputs. Dendrites exhibit enormously diverse forms. In many cases the shape of the dendritic arbor can be related to the mode of connectivity between neurons, with dendrites often ramifying in characteristic spatial domains where they receive specific inputs. Synaptic inputs occur directly on the shaft of some dendrites, but other dendrites have specialized enlargements or protrusions to receive synapses. These synaptic specializations also occur in many different forms related to local connectivity requirements. The use of serial section electron microscopy to obtain detailed quantitative data on these structures has shown that synaptic specializations differ widely in dimensions, distribution, and intracellular composition. The shape and composition of dendrites are under the continual influence of the local environment, as demonstrated by various pathological conditions. Understanding the structural diversity of dendrites is essential for understanding the intricacies of dendritic function and the contribution dendrites make to mental processes.
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