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Molecular and cellular mechanisms of inhibitory synapse formation in developing rat hippocampal neurons Dobie, Frederick Andrew

Abstract

The proper functioning of the brain and central nervous system (CNS) requires the precise formation of synapses between neurons. The two main neurotransmitter systems for fast synaptic communication in the CNS are excitatory glutamate and inhibitory gamma-aminobutyric acid. A growing body of evidence has begun to uncover several shared and divergent rules for the establishment of each of these two types of synapses. At the molecular level, a number of key proteins have been shown to be involved in the initial formation and subsequent development of synaptic connection, including cell adhesion molecules (CAMs). Among the CAMs, neurexins and neuroligins are important synaptogenic proteins that act trans-synaptically to organize synapses: binding of axonal beta-neurexins by neuroligins is sufficient to cause development of a presynaptic specialization at that site, while binding of dendritic neuroligin-1 or neuroligin-2 by beta-neurexins is sufficient to cause development of postsynaptic excitatory or inhibitory specializations, respectively. In Chapter 2, we explore the role of alpha-neurexins in synapse organization. We find alpha-neurexins are able to specifically induce the formation of inhibitory synapses, presumably through clustering of postsynaptic neuroligin-2. Moreover, we find that the expression of various splice variants of alpha- and beta-neurexins is regulated both during development and by activity, suggesting a physiological role for alternative splicing in the modulation of synapse assembly. At the cellular level, it is now clear from live imaging studies that synapses and their formation are highly dynamic processes. A number of studies have established the temporal recruitment of pre- and postsynaptic components to nascent synapses and how synapse formation can influence neuron growth. However, these studies have focused on excitatory synapses. In Chapter 3, we explore the cellular mechanisms of inhibitory synapse formation and modulation. We find that entire synapses are highly mobile and can undergo dynamic structural modulation. New synapses are formed by gradual accumulation of components from diffuse cytoplasmic pools, with a significant contribution of presynaptic vesicles from previously recycling sites. These results provide new insights into the mechanisms of inhibitory synapse formation and how it is both similar and different from excitatory synapse formation.

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