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J Neurosci. 2005 Jan 5;25(1):260-70.

Selective capability of SynCAM and neuroligin for functional synapse assembly.

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  • 1Center for Basic Neuroscience, The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, Texas 75390-9111, USA.

Abstract

Synaptic cell adhesion is central for synapse formation and function. Recently, the synaptic cell adhesion molecules neuroligin 1 (NL1) and SynCAM were shown to induce presynaptic differentiation in cocultured neurons when expressed in a non-neuronal cell. However, it is uncertain how similar the resulting artificial synapses are to regular synapses. Are these molecules isofunctional, or do all neuronal cell adhesion molecules nonspecifically activate synapse formation? To address these questions, we analyzed the properties of artificial synapses induced by NL1 and SynCAM, compared the actions of these molecules with those of other neuronal cell adhesion molecules, and examined the functional effects of NL1 and SynCAM overexpression in neurons. We found that only NL1 and SynCAM specifically induced presynaptic differentiation in cocultured neurons. The induced nerve terminals were capable of both spontaneous and evoked neurotransmitter release, suggesting that a full secretory apparatus was assembled. By all measures, SynCAM- and NL1-induced artificial synapses were identical. Overexpression in neurons demonstrated that only SynCAM, but not NL1, increased synaptic function in immature developing excitatory neurons after 8 d in vitro. Tests of chimeric molecules revealed that the dominant-positive effect of SynCAM on synaptic function in developing neurons was mediated by its intracellular cytoplasmic tail. Interestingly, morphological analysis of neurons overexpressing SynCAM or NL1 showed the opposite of the predictions from electrophysiological results. In this case, only NL1 increased the synapse number, suggesting a role for NL1 in morphological synapse induction. These results suggest that both NL1 and SynCAM act similarly and specifically in artificial synapse induction but that this process does not reflect a shared physiological function of these molecules.

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