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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Regulation of filopodia dynamics is critical for proper synapse formation Gauthier-Campbell, Catherine


Despite the importance of proper synaptogenesis in the CNS, the molecular mechanisms that regulate the formation and development of synapses remain poorly understood. Indeed, the mechanisms through which initial synaptic contacts are established and modified during synaptogenesis have not been fully determined and a precise understanding of these mechanisms may shed light on synaptic development, plasticity and many CNS developmental diseases. The development and formation of spiny synapses has been thought to occur via filopodia shortening followed by the recruitment of proper postsynaptic proteins, however the precise function of filopodia remains controversial. Thus the goal of this study was to investigate the dynamics of dendritic filopodia and determine their role in the development of synaptic contacts. We initially define and characterize short lipidated motifs that are sufficient to induce process outgrowth. Indeed, the palmitoylated protein motifs of GAP-43 and paralemmin are sufficient to induce filopodial extensions in heterologous cells and to increase the number of filopodia and dendritic branches in neurons. We showed that the morphological changes induced by these FIMs (filopodia inducing motifs) require on-going protein palmitoylation and are modulated by a specific GTPase, Cdc42, that regulates actin dynamics. We also show that their function is palmitoylation dependent and is dynamically regulated by reversible protein palmitoylation. Significantly, our work suggests a general role for those palmitoylated motifs in the development of structures important for synapse formation and maturation. We combined several approaches to monitor the formation and development of filopodia. We show that filopodia continuously explore the environment and probe for appropriate contacts with presynaptic partners. We find that shortly after establishing a contact with axons, filopodia induce the recruitment of presynaptic elements. Remarkably, we find that expression of acylated motifs or the constitutively active form of cdc-42 enhances filopodia number and motility, but reduces the recruitment of synaptophysin positive presynaptic elements and the probability of forming stable axo-dendritic contacts. We provide evidence for the rapid transformation of filopodia to spines within hours of imaging live neurons and reveal potential molecules that accelerate this process.

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