Functional compartmentalization of dendrites is thought to underlie afferent-specific integration of neural activity in laminar brain structures. Here we show that in the lateral nucleus of the amygdala (LA), an area lacking apparent laminar organization, thalamic and cortical afferents converge on the same dendrites, contacting neighboring but morphologically and functionally distinct spine types. Large spines contacted by thalamic afferents exhibited larger Ca2+ transients during action potential backpropagation than did small spines contacted by cortical afferents. Accordingly, induction of Hebbian plasticity, dependent on postsynaptic spikes, was restricted to thalamic afferents. This synapse-specific effect involved activation of R-type voltage-dependent Ca2+ channels preferentially located at thalamic inputs. These results indicate that afferent-specific mechanisms of postsynaptic, associative Hebbian plasticity in LA projection neurons depend on local, spine-specific morphological and molecular properties, rather than global differences between dendritic compartments.
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