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J Cell Sci. 1998 Feb;111 ( Pt 3):335-45.

Strychnine-sensitive stabilization of postsynaptic glycine receptor clusters.

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  • 1Laboratoire de Biologie Cellulaire de la Synapse (INSERM U 497), Ecole Normale Supérieure, Paris, France.


The cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying the postsynaptic aggregation of ionotropic receptors in the central nervous system are not understood. The glycine receptor (GlyR) and its cytoplasmic domain-associated protein, gephyrin, are clustered at the postsynaptic membrane and constitute a good model for addressing these questions. The glycine receptor is inhibited by strychnine. The effects of chronic strychnine treatment on the expression and cellular distribution of gephyrin and glycine receptor were therefore tested using primary cultures of spinal cord neurons. Reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) analysis revealed that the glycine receptor alpha1, alpha2, beta subunits and gephyrin mRNAs were expressed at comparable levels in strychnine-treated and untreated cultures. The number of immunoreactive cells and the subcellular distribution of gephyrin and GlyR subunits was determined with standard and confocal immunofluorescence. The proportion of gephyrin and glycine receptor-immunoreactive (IR) cells was unaffected by strychnine treatment. Confocal microscopy revealed that the glycine receptor was mainly localized intracellularly near the nucleus. This cytoplasmic glycine receptor was not associated with the Golgi apparatus nor with the rough endoplasmic reticulum and therefore is not likely to correspond to neosynthesized proteins. The number of GlyR clusters on the somato-dendritic membrane was dramatically reduced on neurons displaying intracellular staining. In contrast, the subcellular distribution and the number of gephyrin clusters was not modified by the treatment. The fact that gephyrin postsynaptic localization was not modified by strychnine suggests that the aggregation of glycine receptor and gephyrin is governed by different mechanisms. The distribution of other cell surface molecules such as NCAM or GABAA receptor beta2/3 subunits was not modified by strychnine treatment. Chronic exposure of the cultures to tetrodotoxin did not affect gephyrin or glycine receptor cluster formation. Taken together, these results indicate that functional glycine receptor, but not electrical synaptic activity, is required for the formation of glycine receptor clusters.

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