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Origins and functional implications of dendritic synaptic clustering


There is a surprising amount of structure in the fine-scale organization of synaptic inputs onto the dendritic tree of a neuron in different brain regions, developmental ages and diverse species from rodent to primate. Recent advances in imaging techniques, which allow the simultaneous imaging of many dendritic spines over prolonged time periods and under different sensory conditions, are rapidly increasing our knowledge about this fine-scale organization. In particular, previous studies have consistently found functional synaptic clustering whereby synapses that receive correlated input or encode a common sensory feature are spatially grouped. This ubiquity of synaptic clustering has posed a key question regarding whether this clustering is simply incidental to the synaptic organization on dendrites, or indicates a fundamental aspect of neuronal processing. Recent experimental evidence and theoretical modeling suggest its integral importance for various neural computations - predicting future learning and memory performance, computational efficacy and robust encoding of information.

However, the mechanistic origins of synaptic clustering especially during early postnatal development, its diverse manifestation in different species and its functional implications across different brain areas are far less understood. To address this challenge requires insights and collaborative effort from distinct fields, including structural plasticity, functional plasticity and neurodevelopment, as well as a tight synergy between experiments, theory and computational modeling. The goal of this workshop is to provide a platform for experimentalists and theorists leading the efforts on measuring, quantifying and interpreting the effects of functional synaptic clustering to share and discuss their latest results and to exchange ideas about further work. In particular, we aim to discuss the plasticity mechanisms that lead to synaptic clustering in early postnatal development, the impairment of synaptic clustering in neurological diseases, and the modulation of neural activity through higher-order feedback or around branch-specific multimodal integration.