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J Biol Chem. 2008 Jan 25;283(4):2323-34. Epub 2007 Nov 15.

Induction of GABAergic postsynaptic differentiation by alpha-neurexins.

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Brain Research Centre and Department of Psychiatry, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia V6T 2B5, Canada.


Beta-neurexin and neuroligin cell adhesion molecules contribute to synapse development in the brain. The longer alpha-neurexins function at both glutamate and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) synapses in coupling to presynaptic calcium channels. Binding of alpha-neurexins to neuroligins was recently reported, but the role of the alpha-neurexins in synapse development has not been well studied. Here we report that in COS cell neuron coculture assays, all three alpha-neurexins induce clustering of the GABAergic postsynaptic scaffolding protein gephyrin and neuroligin 2 but not of the glutamatergic postsynaptic scaffolding protein PSD-95 or neuroligin 1/3/4. alpha-Neurexins also induce clustering of the GABA(A) receptor gamma2 subunit. This synapse promoting activity of alpha-neurexins is mediated by the sixth LNS (laminin neurexin sex hormone-binding protein) domain and negatively modulated by upstream sequences. Although inserts at splice site 4 (S4) in beta-neurexins promote greater clustering activity for GABA than glutamate proteins in coculture assay, alpha-neurexin-specific sequences confer complete specificity for GABA proteins. We further report a developmental increase in the ratio of -S4 to +S4 forms of neurexins correlating with an increase in glutamate relative to GABA synaptogenesis and activity regulation of splicing at S4. Thus, +S4 beta-neurexins and, even more selectively, alpha-neurexins may be mediators of GABAergic synaptic protein recruitment and stabilization.

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