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Development. 2006 Jul;133(13):2477-86. Epub 2006 May 25.

BDNF increases synapse density in dendrites of developing tectal neurons in vivo.

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Department of Neurobiology and Behavior, University of California, Irvine, Irvine, CA 92697, USA.


Neuronal connections are established through a series of developmental events that involve close communication between pre- and postsynaptic neurons. In the visual system, BDNF modulates the development of neuronal connectivity by influencing presynaptic retinal ganglion cell (RGC) axons. Increasing BDNF levels in the optic tectum of Xenopus tadpoles significantly increases both axon arborization and synapse density per axon terminal within a few hours of treatment. Here, we have further explored the mechanisms by which BDNF shapes synaptic connectivity by imaging tectal neurons, the postsynaptic partners of RGCs. Individual neurons were co-labeled with DsRed2 and a GFP-tagged postsynaptic density protein (PSD95-GFP) to visualize dendritic morphology and postsynaptic specializations simultaneously in vivo. Immunoelectron microscopy confirmed that PSD95-GFP predominantly localized to ultrastructurally identified synapses. Time-lapse confocal microscopy of individual, double-labeled neurons revealed a coincident, activity-dependent mechanism of synaptogenesis and axon and dendritic arbor growth, which is differentially modulated by BDNF. Microinjection of BDNF into the optic tectum significantly increased synapse number in tectal neuron dendritic arbors within 24 hours, without significantly influencing arbor morphology. BDNF function-blocking antibodies had opposite effects. The BDNF-elicited increase in synapse number complements the previously observed increase in presynaptic sites on RGC axons. These results, together with the timescale of the response by tectal neurons, suggest that the effects of BDNF on dendritic synaptic connectivity are secondary to its effects on presynaptic RGCs. Thus, BDNF influences synaptic connectivity in multiple ways: it enhances axon arbor complexity expanding the synaptic territory of the axon, while simultaneously coordinating synapse formation and stabilization with individual postsynaptic cells.

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