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PLoS One. 2011;6(8):e23598. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0023598. Epub 2011 Aug 15.

Functional and spatial analysis of C. elegans SYG-1 and SYG-2, orthologs of the Neph/nephrin cell adhesion module directing selective synaptogenesis.

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Renal Division, University Hospital Freiburg, Freiburg, Germany.


The assembly of specific synaptic connections represents a prime example of cellular recognition. Members of the Ig superfamily are among the most ancient proteins represented in the genomes of both mammalian and invertebrate organisms, where they constitute a trans-synaptic adhesion system. The correct connectivity patterns of the highly conserved immunoglobulin superfamily proteins nephrin and Neph1 are crucial for the assembly of functional neuronal circuits and the formation of the kidney slit diaphragm, a synapse-like structure forming the filtration barrier. Here, we utilize the nematode C. elegans model for studying the requirements of synaptic specificity mediated by nephrin-Neph proteins. In C. elegans, the nephrin/Neph1 orthologs SYG-2 and SYG-1 form intercellular contacts strictly in trans between epithelial guidepost cells and neurons specifying the localization of synapses. We demonstrate a functional conservation between mammalian nephrin and SYG-2. Expression of nephrin effectively compensated loss of syg-2 function in C. elegans and restored defective synaptic connectivity further establishing the C. elegans system as a valuable model for slit diaphragm proteins. Next, we investigated the effect of SYG-1 and SYG-2 trans homodimerization respectively. Strikingly, synapse assembly could be induced by homophilic SYG-1 but not SYG-2 binding indicating a critical role of SYG-1 intracellular signalling for morphogenetic events and pointing toward the dynamic and stochastic nature of extra- and intracellular nephrin-Neph interactions to generate reproducible patterns of synaptic connectivity.

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