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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2001 Jun 19;98(13):7101-6.

Synaptic regulation of protein synthesis and the fragile X protein.

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Department of Psychology, and Beckman Institute, University of Illinois, 405 North Mathews, Urbana, IL 61801, USA.


Protein synthesis occurs in neuronal dendrites, often near synapses. Polyribosomal aggregates often appear in dendritic spines, particularly during development. Polyribosomal aggregates in spines increase during experience-dependent synaptogenesis, e.g., in rats in a complex environment. Some protein synthesis appears to be regulated directly by synaptic activity. We use "synaptoneurosomes," a preparation highly enriched in pinched-off, resealed presynaptic processes attached to resealed postsynaptic processes that retain normal functions of neurotransmitter release, receptor activation, and various postsynaptic responses including signaling pathways and protein synthesis. We have found that, when synaptoneurosomes are stimulated with glutamate or group I metabotropic glutamate receptor agonists such as dihydroxyphenylglycine, mRNA is rapidly taken up into polyribosomal aggregates, and labeled methionine is incorporated into protein. One of the proteins synthesized is FMRP, the protein that is reduced or absent in fragile X mental retardation syndrome. FMRP has three RNA-binding domains and reportedly binds to a significant number of mRNAs. We have found that dihydroxyphenylglycine-activated protein synthesis in synaptoneurosomes is dramatically reduced in a knockout mouse model of fragile X syndrome, which cannot produce full-length FMRP, suggesting that FMRP is involved in or required for this process. Studies of autopsy samples from patients with fragile X syndrome have indicated that dendritic spines may fail to assume a normal mature size and shape and that there are more spines per unit dendrite length in the patient samples. Similar findings on spine size and shape have come from studies of the knockout mouse. Study of the development of the somatosensory cortical region containing the barrel-like cell arrangements that process whisker information suggests that normal dendritic regression is impaired in the knockout mouse. This finding suggests that FMRP may be required for the normal processes of maturation and elimination to occur in cerebral cortical development.

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