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Dev Neurobiol. 2007 Apr;67(5):521-34.

Synaptic transmission is impaired at neuronal autonomic synapses in agrin-null mice.

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Center for Research in Neuroscience, McGill University Health Center, Montreal, QC, H3G 1A4, Canada.


Neuronal synapse formation is a multistep process regulated by several pre- and postsynaptic adhesion and signaling proteins. Recently, we found that agrin acts as one such synaptogenic factor at neuronal synapses in the PNS by demonstrating that structural synapse formation is impaired in the superior cervical ganglia (SCG) of z+ agrin-deficient mice and in SCG cultures derived from those animals. Here, we tested whether synaptic function is defective in agrin-null (AGD-/-) ganglia and began to define agrin's mechanism of action. Our electrophysiological recordings of compound action potentials showed that presynaptic stimulation evoked action potentials in approximately 40% of AGD-/- ganglionic neurons compared to 90% of wild-type neurons; moreover, transmission could not be potentiated as in wild-type or z+ agrin-deficient ganglia. Intracellular recordings also showed that nerve-evoked excitatory postsynaptic potentials in AGD-/- neurons were only 1/3 the size of those in wild-type neurons and mostly subthreshold. Consistent with these defects in transmission, we found an approximately 40-50% decrease in synapse number in AGD-/- ganglia and cultures, and decreased levels of differentiation at the residual synapses in culture. Furthermore, surface levels of acetylcholine receptors (AChRs) were equivalent in cultured AGD-/- and wild-type neurons, and depolarization reduced the synaptic localization of AChRs in AGD-/- but not wild-type neurons. These findings provide the first direct demonstration that agrin is required for proper structural and functional development of an interneuronal synapse in vivo. Moreover, they suggest a novel role for agrin, in stabilizing the postsynaptic density of nAChR at nascent neuronal synapses.

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