Lifespan Alterations of Basal Dendritic Trees of Pyramidal Neurons in the Human Prefrontal Cortex: A Layer-Specific Pattern

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The postnatal development and lifespan alterations in basal dendrites of large layer IIIC and layer V pyramidal neurons were quantitatively studied. Both classes of neurons were characterized by rapid dendritic growth during the first postnatal months. At birth, layer V pyramidal neurons had larger and more complex dendritic trees than those of layer IIIC; however, at 1 postnatal month both classes of neurons displayed a similar extent of dendritic outgrowth. In addition, after a more than year-long “dormant” period of only fine dendritic rearrangement, layer IIIC pyramidal neurons displayed a second period of dendritic growth, starting at the end of the second year and continuing in the third year. During that period, the dendritic tree of layer IIIC pyramidal neurons became more extensive than that of layer V pyramidal neurons. Thus, layer IIIC pyramidal neurons appear to show a biphasic pattern of postnatal dendritic development. Furthermore, the childhood period was characterized by transient increase in size of pyramidal cell somata, which was more pronounced for neurons in layer IIIC. These structural changes occurred during both the period of rapid cognitive development in preschool children and the period of protracted cognitive maturation during the childhood, puberty, and adolescence.

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