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J Neurochem. 2006 Jun;97(5):1215-31. Epub 2006 Apr 21.

Seeking long-term relationship: axon and target communicate to organize synaptic differentiation.

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1
Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138, USA. mike.fox@mcb.harvard.edu

Abstract

Synapses form after growing axons recognize their appropriate targets. The subsequent assembly of aligned pre and postsynaptic specializations is critical for synaptic function. This highly precise apposition of presynaptic elements (i.e. active zones) to postsynaptic specializations (i.e. neurotransmitter receptor clusters) strongly suggests that communication between the axon and target is required for synaptic differentiation. What trans-synaptic factors drive such differentiation at vertebrate synapses? First insights into the answers to this question came from studies at the neuromuscular junction (NMJ), where axon-derived agrin and muscle-derived laminin beta2 induce post and presynaptic differentiation, respectively. Recent work has suggested that axon- and target-derived factors similarly drive synaptic differentiation at central synapses. Specifically, WNT-7a, neuroligin, synaptic cell adhesion molecule (SynCAM) and fibroblast growth factor-22 (FGF-22) have all been identified as target-derived presynaptic organizers, whereas axon-derived neuronal activity regulated pentraxin (Narp), ephrinB and neurexin reciprocally co-ordinate postsynaptic differentiation. In addition to these axon- and target-derived inducers of synaptic differentiation, factors released from glial cells have also been implicated in regulating synapse assembly. Together, these recent findings have profoundly advanced our understanding of how precise appositions are established during vertebrate nervous system development.

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