Spines are tiny nanoscale protrusions from dendrites of neurons. In the cortex and hippocampus, most of the excitatory postsynaptic sites reside in spines. The bulbous spine head is connected to the dendritic shaft by a thin membranous neck. Because the neck is narrow, spine heads are thought to function as biochemically independent signaling compartments. Thus, dynamic changes in the composition, distribution, mobility, conformations, and signaling properties of molecules contained within spines can account for much of the molecular basis of postsynaptic function and regulation. A major factor in controlling these changes is the diffusional properties of proteins within this small compartment. Advances in measurement techniques using fluorescence microscopy now make it possible to measure molecular diffusion within single dendritic spines directly. Here, we review the regulatory mechanisms of diffusion in spines by local intra-spine architecture and discuss their implications for neuronal signaling and synaptic plasticity.

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