Synapses are recognized as being highly plastic in structure and function, strongly influenced by their own histories of impulse traffic and by signals from nearby cells. Synaptic contacts are fundamental for the development, homeostasis and remodeling of complex neural circuits. Synapses are highly varied in their molecular composition. Understand this diversity is important because it sheds light on the way they function. In particular, this may be useful for understanding the mechanisms at the basis of synaptic dysfunctions associated with neurodevelopmental disorders, such as Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) in order to develop properly targeted therapeutic tools. During the first part of my Phd course I characterized the functional role of gephyrin at inhibitory synapses (paper N. 1). Gephyrin is a scaffold protein essential for stabilizing glycine and GABAA receptors at inhibitory synapses. Using recombinant intrabodies against gephyrin (scFv-gephyrin) I tested the hypothesis that this protein exerts a trans-synaptic action on GABA and glutamate release. Pair recordings from interconnected hippocampal cells in culture revealed a reduced probability of GABA release in scFv-gephyrintransfected neurons compared with controls. This effect was associated with a significant decrease in VGAT, the vesicular GABA transporter, and in neuroligin 2 (NL2), a protein that, interacting with the neurexins, ensures the cross-talk between the post- and presynaptic sites. I also found that, hampering gephyrin function produced a significant reduction in VGLUT, the vesicular glutamate transporter, an effect accompanied by a significant decrease in frequency of miniature excitatory postsynaptic currents. Over-expressing NLG2 in gephyrindeprived neurons rescued GABAergic but not glutamatergic innervation, suggesting that the observed changes in the latter were not due to a homeostatic compensatory mechanism. These results suggest a key role of gephyrin in regulating trans-synaptic signaling at both inhibitory and excitatory synapses. Several lines of evidence suggest that proteins involved in synaptic function are altered in ASDs. In particular, in a small percentage of cases, ASDs have been found to be associated with single mutations in genes encoding for cell adhesion molecules of the neuroligin-neurexin families. One of these involves the postsynaptic cell adhesion molecule neuroligin (NL) 3. In the second part of my PhD, I used transgenic mice carrying the human R451C mutation of Nlgn3, to study GABAergic and glutamatergic signaling in the hippocampus early in postnatal life (paper N. 2). I performed whole cell recordings from CA3 pyramidal neurons in hippocampal slices from NL3 R451C knock-in mice and I found an enhanced frequency of Giant Depolarizing Potentials, as compared to controls. This effect was probably dependent on an increased GABAergic drive to principal cells as demonstrated by the enhanced frequency of miniature GABAAmediated (GPSCs) postsynaptic currents, but not AMPA-mediated postsynaptic currents (EPSCs). The increase in frequency of mGPSCs suggest a presynaptic 9 type of action. This was further supported by the experiments with the fast-off GABAA receptor antagonist TPMPA that, as expected for an enhanced GABA transient in the cleft, showed a reduced blocking effect on miniature events. Although an increased number of available postsynaptic GABAA receptors, if these are not saturated by the content of a single GABA containing vesicle may account for these results, this was not the case since a similar number of receptor channels was revealed with peak-scaled non-stationary fluctuation analysis in both WT and NL3R451C knock-in mice, indicating that the observed effects were not postsynaptic in origin. Presynaptic changes in GABA release can be attributed to modifications in the probability of GABA release, in the number of release sites or in the content of GABA in single synaptic vesicles. Changes in probability of GABA release seem unlikely considering that we examined miniature events generated by the release of a single quantum. Our data do not allow distinguishing between the other two possibilities (changes in the number of release sites or in vesicle GABA content). However, in agreement with previous data from Südhof group showing an enhancement of the presynaptic GABAergic marker VGAT (but not VGlut1) in the hippocampus of NL3R451C KI mice (Tabuchi et al., 2007), it is likely that an increased GABAergic innervation may contribute to the enhancement of GABA release. In additional experiments I found that changes in frequency of miniature GABAergic events were associated with an acceleration of mGPSCs decay possibly of postsynaptic origin. The increased frequency of mEPSCs detected in adult, but not young NL3 R451C mice may represent a late form of compensatory homeostatic correction to counter the excessive GABAA-mediated inhibition. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that alterations in the excitatory/inhibitory balance, crucial for the refinement of neuronal circuits early in postnatal development, accounts for the behavioral deficits observed in ASDs patients. Although also in the present case, a modification of gephyrin expression in R451C NL 3 knock-in mice was associated with changes in GABAergic innervations suggesting the involvement of a trans-synaptic signal, the role of NL3 mutation in this effect remains to be elucidated. Finally, I contribute in writing a review article (paper N. 3) that gives an up dated picture of alterations of GABAergic signaling present in different forms of Autism Spectrum Disorders.
|Titolo:||Trans-synaptic signaling at GABAergic connections: possible dysfunction in some forms of Autism Spectrum Disorders|
|Data di pubblicazione:||14-dic-2012|
|Appare nelle tipologie:||8.1 PhD thesis|