An autism-associated point mutation in the neuroligin cytoplasmic tail selectively impairs AMPA receptor-mediated synaptic transmission in hippocampus.
ABSTRACT: Neuroligins are evolutionarily conserved postsynaptic cell-adhesion molecules that function, at least in part, by forming trans-synaptic complexes with presynaptic neurexins. Different neuroligin isoforms perform diverse functions and exhibit distinct intracellular localizations, but contain similar cytoplasmic sequences whose role remains largely unknown. Here, we analysed the effect of a single amino-acid substitution (R704C) that targets a conserved arginine residue in the cytoplasmic sequence of all neuroligins, and that was associated with autism in neuroligin-4. We introduced the R704C mutation into mouse neuroligin-3 by homologous recombination, and examined its effect on synapses in vitro and in vivo. Electrophysiological and morphological studies revealed that the neuroligin-3 R704C mutation did not significantly alter synapse formation, but dramatically impaired synapse function. Specifically, the R704C mutation caused a major and selective decrease in AMPA receptor-mediated synaptic transmission in pyramidal neurons of the hippocampus, without similarly changing NMDA or GABA receptor-mediated synaptic transmission, and without detectably altering presynaptic neurotransmitter release. Our results suggest that the cytoplasmic tail of neuroligin-3 has a central role in synaptic transmission by modulating the recruitment of AMPA receptors to postsynaptic sites at excitatory synapses.
Project description:Neuroligins are postsynaptic cell-adhesion molecules that bind to presynaptic neurexins. Although the general synaptic role of neuroligins is undisputed, their specific functions at a synapse remain unclear, even controversial. Moreover, many neuroligin gene mutations were associated with autism, but the pathophysiological relevance of these mutations is often unknown, and their mechanisms of action uninvestigated. Here, we examine the synaptic effects of an autism-associated neuroligin-4 substitution (called R704C), which mutates a cytoplasmic arginine residue that is conserved in all neuroligins. We show that the R704C mutation, when introduced into neuroligin-3, enhances the interaction between neuroligin-3 and AMPA receptors, increases AMPA-receptor internalization and decreases postsynaptic AMPA-receptor levels. When introduced into neuroligin-4, conversely, the R704C mutation unexpectedly elevated AMPA-receptor-mediated synaptic responses. These results suggest a general functional link between neuroligins and AMPA receptors, indicate that both neuroligin-3 and -4 act at excitatory synapses but perform surprisingly distinct functions, and demonstrate that the R704C mutation significantly impairs the normal function of neuroligin-4, thereby validating its pathogenicity.
Project description:Neuroligins are postsynaptic cell-adhesion molecules that bind to presynaptic neurexins. Mutations in neuroligin-3 predispose to autism, but how such mutations affect synaptic function remains incompletely understood. Here we systematically examined the effect of three autism-associated mutations, the neuroligin-3 knockout, the R451C knockin, and the R704C knockin, on synaptic transmission in the calyx of Held, a central synapse ideally suited for high-resolution analyses of synaptic transmission. Surprisingly, germline knockout of neuroligin-3 did not alter synaptic transmission, whereas the neuroligin-3 R451C and R704C knockins decreased and increased, respectively, synaptic transmission. These puzzling results prompted us to ask whether neuroligin-3 mutant phenotypes may be reshaped by developmental plasticity. Indeed, conditional knockout of neuroligin-3 during late development produced a marked synaptic phenotype, whereas conditional knockout of neuroligin-3 during early development caused no detectable effect, mimicking the germline knockout. In canvassing potentially redundant candidate genes, we identified developmentally early expression of another synaptic neurexin ligand, cerebellin-1. Strikingly, developmentally early conditional knockout of cerebellin-1 only modestly impaired synaptic transmission, whereas in contrast to the individual single knockouts, developmentally early conditional double knockout of both cerebellin-1 and neuroligin-3 severely decreased synaptic transmission. Our data suggest an unanticipated mechanism of developmental compensation whereby cerebellin-1 and neuroligin-3 functionally occlude each other during development of calyx synapses. Thus, although acute manipulations more likely reveal basic gene functions, developmental plasticity can be a major factor in shaping the overall phenotypes of genetic neuropsychiatric disorders.
Project description:Formation of synaptic connections requires alignment of neurotransmitter receptors on postsynaptic dendrites opposite matching transmitter release sites on presynaptic axons. beta-neurexins and neuroligins form a trans-synaptic link at glutamate synapses. We show here that neurexin alone is sufficient to induce glutamate postsynaptic differentiation in contacting dendrites. Surprisingly, neurexin also induces GABA postsynaptic differentiation. Conversely, neuroligins induce presynaptic differentiation in both glutamate and GABA axons. Whereas neuroligins-1, -3, and -4 localize to glutamate postsynaptic sites, neuroligin-2 localizes primarily to GABA synapses. Direct aggregation of neuroligins reveals a linkage of neuroligin-2 to GABA and glutamate postsynaptic proteins, but the other neuroligins only to glutamate postsynaptic proteins. Furthermore, mislocalized expression of neuroligin-2 disperses postsynaptic proteins and disrupts synaptic transmission. Our findings indicate that the neurexin-neuroligin link is a core component mediating both GABAergic and glutamatergic synaptogenesis, and differences in isoform localization and binding affinities may contribute to appropriate differentiation and specificity.
Project description:Postsynaptic neuroligins are thought to perform essential functions in synapse validation and synaptic transmission by binding to, and dimerizing, presynaptic alpha- and beta-neurexins. To test this hypothesis, we examined the functional effects of neuroligin-1 mutations that impair only alpha-neurexin binding, block both alpha- and beta-neurexin binding, or abolish neuroligin-1 dimerization. Abolishing alpha-neurexin binding abrogated neuroligin-induced generation of neuronal synapses onto transfected non-neuronal cells in the so-called artificial synapse-formation assay, even though beta-neurexin binding was retained. Thus, in this assay, neuroligin-1 induces apparent synapse formation by binding to presynaptic alpha-neurexins. In transfected neurons, however, neither alpha- nor beta-neurexin binding was essential for the ability of postsynaptic neuroligin-1 to dramatically increase synapse density, suggesting a neurexin-independent mechanism of synapse formation. Moreover, neuroligin-1 dimerization was not required for either the non-neuronal or the neuronal synapse-formation assay. Nevertheless, both alpha-neurexin binding and neuroligin-1 dimerization were essential for the increase in apparent synapse size that is induced by neuroligin-1 in transfected neurons. Thus, neuroligin-1 performs diverse synaptic functions by mechanisms that include as essential components of alpha-neurexin binding and neuroligin dimerization, but extend beyond these activities.
Project description:Neuroligins are postsynaptic cell-adhesion molecules that bind presynaptic neurexins and are genetically linked to autism. Neuroligins are proposed to organize synaptogenesis and/or synaptic transmission, but no systematic analysis of neuroligins in a defined circuit is available. Here, we show that conditional deletion of all neuroligins in cerebellar Purkinje cells caused loss of distal climbing-fiber synapses and weakened climbing-fiber but not parallel-fiber synapses, consistent with alternative use of neuroligins and cerebellins as neurexin ligands for the excitatory climbing-fiber versus parallel-fiber synapses. Moreover, deletion of neuroligins increased the size of inhibitory basket/stellate-cell synapses but simultaneously severely impaired their function. Multiple neuroligin isoforms differentially contributed to climbing-fiber and basket/stellate-cell synapse functions, such that inhibitory synapse-specific neuroligin-2 was unexpectedly essential for maintaining normal climbing-fiber synapse numbers. Using systematic analyses of all neuroligins in a defined neural circuit, our data thus show that neuroligins differentially contribute to various Purkinje-cell synapses in the cerebellum in vivo.
Project description:Neuroligins, postsynaptic cell adhesion molecules that are linked to neuropsychiatric disorders, are extensively studied, but fundamental questions about their functions remain. Using in vivo replacement strategies in quadruple conditional knockout mice of all neuroligins to avoid heterodimerization artifacts, we show, in hippocampal CA1 pyramidal neurons, that neuroligin-1 performs two key functions in excitatory synapses by distinct molecular mechanisms. N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor-dependent LTP requires trans-synaptic binding of postsynaptic neuroligin-1 to presynaptic ?-neurexins but not the cytoplasmic sequences of neuroligins. In contrast, postsynaptic NMDA receptor (NMDAR)-mediated responses involve a neurexin-independent mechanism that requires the neuroligin-1 cytoplasmic sequences. Strikingly, deletion of neuroligins blocked the spine expansion associated with LTP, as monitored by two-photon imaging; this block involved a mechanism identical to that of the role of neuroligin-1 in NMDAR-dependent LTP. Our data suggest that neuroligin-1 performs two mechanistically distinct signaling functions and that neurolign-1-mediated trans-synaptic cell adhesion signaling critically regulates LTP.
Project description:Neurexins are presynaptic cell-adhesion molecules that form trans-synaptic complexes with postsynaptic neuroligins. When overexpressed in nonneuronal cells, neurexins induce formation of postsynaptic specializations in cocultured neurons, suggesting that neurexins are synaptogenic. However, we find that when overexpressed in neurons, neurexins do not increase synapse density, but instead selectively suppressed GABAergic synaptic transmission without decreasing GABAergic synapse numbers. This suppression was mediated by all subtypes of neurexins tested, in a cell-autonomous and neuroligin-independent manner. Strikingly, addition of recombinant neurexin to cultured neurons at submicromolar concentrations induced the same suppression of GABAergic synaptic transmission as neurexin overexpression. Moreover, experiments with native brain proteins and purified recombinant proteins revealed that neurexins directly and stoichiometrically bind to GABA(A) receptors, suggesting that they decrease GABAergic synaptic responses by interacting with GABA(A) receptors. Our findings suggest that besides their other well-documented interactions, presynaptic neurexins directly act on postsynaptic GABA(A) receptors, which may contribute to regulate the excitatory/inhibitory balance in brain.
Project description:Neuroligins are postsynaptic cell adhesion molecules that associate with presynaptic neurexins. Both factors form a transsynaptic connection, mediate signaling across the synapse, specify synaptic functions, and play a role in synapse formation. Neuroligin dysfunction impairs synaptic transmission, disrupts neuronal networks, and is thought to participate in cognitive diseases. Here we report that chemical treatment designed to induce long-term potentiation or long-term depression (LTD) induces neuroligin 1/3 turnover, leading to either increased or decreased surface membrane protein levels, respectively. Despite its structural role at a crucial transsynaptic position, GFP-neuroligin 1 leaves synapses in hippocampal neurons over time with chemical LTD-induced neuroligin internalization depending on an intact microtubule cytoskeleton. Accordingly, neuroligin 1 and its binding partner postsynaptic density protein-95 (PSD-95) associate with components of the dynein motor complex and undergo retrograde cotransport with a dynein subunit. Transgenic depletion of dynein function in mice causes postsynaptic NLG1/3 and PSD-95 enrichment. In parallel, PSD lengths and spine head sizes are significantly increased, a phenotype similar to that observed upon transgenic overexpression of NLG1 (Dahlhaus et al., 2010). Moreover, application of a competitive PSD-95 peptide and neuroligin 1 C-terminal mutagenesis each specifically alter neuroligin 1 surface membrane expression and interfere with its internalization. Our data suggest the concept that synaptic plasticity regulates neuroligin turnover through active cytoskeleton transport.
Project description:The autism-associated synaptic-adhesion gene Neuroligin-4 (NLGN4) is poorly conserved evolutionarily, limiting conclusions from Nlgn4 mouse models for human cells. Here, we show that the cellular and subcellular expression of human and murine Neuroligin-4 differ, with human Neuroligin-4 primarily expressed in cerebral cortex and localized to excitatory synapses. Overexpression of NLGN4 in human embryonic stem cell-derived neurons resulted in an increase in excitatory synapse numbers but a remarkable decrease in synaptic strength. Human neurons carrying the syndromic autism mutation NLGN4-R704C also formed more excitatory synapses but with increased functional synaptic transmission due to a postsynaptic mechanism, while genetic loss of NLGN4 did not significantly affect synapses in the human neurons analyzed. Thus, the NLGN4-R704C mutation represents a change-of-function mutation. Our work reveals contrasting roles of NLGN4 in human and mouse neurons, suggesting that human evolution has impacted even fundamental cell biological processes generally assumed to be highly conserved.
Project description:The formation of neuronal circuits during development involves a combination of synapse stabilization and elimination events. Synaptic adhesion molecules are thought to play an important role in synaptogenesis, and several trans-synaptic adhesion systems that promote the formation and maturation of synapses have been identified. The neuroligin-neurexin complex is a heterophilic adhesion system that promotes assembly and maturation of synapses through bidirectional signaling. In this protein complex, postsynaptic neuroligins are thought to interact trans-synaptically with presynaptic neurexins. However, the subcellular localization of neurexins has not been determined. Using immunoelectron microscopy, we found that endogenous neurexins and epitope-tagged neurexin-1beta are localized to axons and presynaptic terminals in vivo. Unexpectedly, neurexins are also abundant in the postsynaptic density. cis-expression of neurexin-1beta with neuroligin-1 inhibits trans-binding to recombinant neurexins, blocks the synaptogenic activity of neuroligin-1, and reduces the density of presynaptic terminals in cultured hippocampal neurons. Our results demonstrate that the function of neurexin proteins is more diverse than previously anticipated and suggest that postsynaptic cis-interactions might provide a novel mechanism for silencing the activity of a synaptic adhesion complex.