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J Biol Chem. 2003 Oct 17;278(42):41099-108. Epub 2003 Aug 1.

Presynaptic N-type calcium channels regulate synaptic growth.

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Department of Biology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139, USA.


Voltage-gated calcium channels couple changes in membrane potential to neuronal functions regulated by calcium, including neurotransmitter release. Here we report that presynaptic N-type calcium channels not only control neurotransmitter release but also regulate synaptic growth at Drosophila neuromuscular junctions. In a screen for behavioral mutants that disrupt synaptic transmission, an allele of the N-type calcium channel locus (Dmca1A) was identified that caused synaptic undergrowth. The underlying molecular defect was identified as a neutralization of a charged residue in the third S4 voltage sensor. RNA interference reduction of N-type calcium channel expression also reduced synaptic growth. Hypomorphic mutations in syntaxin-1A or n-synaptobrevin, which also disrupt neurotransmitter release, did not affect synapse proliferation at the neuromuscular junction, suggesting calcium entry through presynaptic N-type calcium channels, not neurotransmitter release per se, is important for synaptic growth. The reduced synapse proliferation in Dmca1A mutants is not due to increased synapse retraction but instead reflects a role for calcium influx in synaptic growth mechanisms. These results suggest N-type channels participate in synaptic growth through signaling pathways that are distinct from those that mediate neurotransmitter release. Linking presynaptic voltage-gated calcium entry to downstream calcium-sensitive synaptic growth regulators provides an efficient activity-dependent mechanism for modifying synaptic strength.

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