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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The role of filopodia in the formation of spine synapses Arstikaitis, Pamela


In the mammalian brain, excitatory (glutamatergic) synapses are mainly located on dendritic spines; bulbous protrusions enriched with F-actin. Dendritic filopodia are thin protrusions thought to be involved in the development of spines. However, limited evidence illustrating the emergence of spines from filopodia has been found. In addition, the molecular machinery required for filopodia induction and transformation to spines is not well understood. Paralemmin-1 has been shown to induce cell expansion and process formation and is concentrated at the plasma membrane, in part through a lipid modification known as palmitoylation. Palmitoylation of paralemmin-1 may also serve as a signal for its delivery to subcellular lipid microdomains to induce changes in cell morphology and membrane dynamics making it a candidate synapse-inducing molecule. Using live imaging as well as loss and gain-of-function approaches, our analysis identifies paralemmin-1 as a regulator of filopodia induction, synapse formation, and spine maturation. We show neuronal activity-driven translocation of paralemmin-1 to membranes induces rapid protrusion expansion, emphasizing the importance of paralemmin-1 in paradigms that control structural changes associated with synaptic plasticity and learning. Finally, we show that knockdown of paralemmin-1 results in loss of filopodia and compromises spine maturation induced by Shank1b, a protein that facilitates rapid transformation of newly formed filopodia to spines. To investigate the role of filopodia in synapse formation, we contrasted the roles of molecules that affect filopodia elaboration and motility, versus those that impact synapse induction and maturation. Expression of the palmitoylated protein motifs found in growth associated protein 43kDa, enhanced filopodia number and motility, but reduced the probability of forming a stable axon-dendrite contact. Conversely, expression of neuroligin-1 (NLG-1), a synapse inducing cell adhesion molecule, resulted in a decrease in filopodia motility, but an increase in the number of stable axonal contacts. Moreover, siRNA knockdown of NLG-1, reduced the number of presynaptic contacts formed. Postsynaptic scaffolding proteins such as Shank1b, a protein that induces the maturation of spine synapses, reduced filopodia number, but increased the stabilization of the initial contact with axons. These results suggest that increased filopodia stability and not density may be the rate-limiting step for synapse formation.

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