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J Neurosci. 2011 Jan 19;31(3):899-906. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.4625-10.2011.

A novel role for {gamma}-secretase: selective regulation of spontaneous neurotransmitter release from hippocampal neurons.

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  • 1Department of Physiology and Biophysics, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, Washington 98195, USA.


With a multitude of substrates, γ-secretase is poised to control neuronal function through a variety of signaling pathways. Presenilin 1 (PS1) is an integral component of γ-secretase and is also a protein closely linked to the etiology of Alzheimer's disease (AD). To better understand the roles of γ-secretase and PS1 in normal and pathological synaptic transmission, we examined evoked and spontaneous neurotransmitter release in cultured hippocampal neurons derived from PS1 knock-out (KO) mice. We found no changes in the size of evoked synaptic currents, short-term plasticity, or apparent calcium dependence of evoked release. The rate of spontaneous release from PS1 KO neurons was, however, approximately double that observed in wild-type (WT) neurons. This increase in spontaneous neurotransmission depended on calcium influx but did not require activation of voltage-gated calcium channels or presynaptic NMDA receptors or release of calcium from internal stores. The rate of spontaneous release from PS1 KO neurons was significantly reduced by lentivirus-mediated expression of WT PS1 or familial AD-linked M146V PS1, but not the D257A PS1 mutant that does not support γ-secretase activity. Treatment of WT neuronal cultures with γ-secretase inhibitor mimicked the loss of PS1, leading to a selective increase in spontaneous release without any change in the size of evoked synaptic currents. Together, these results identify a novel role for γ-secretase in the control of spontaneous neurotransmission through modulation of low-level tonic calcium influx into presynaptic axon terminals.

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