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PLoS One. 2011;6(8):e24149. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0024149. Epub 2011 Aug 26.

Myosin IIb activity and phosphorylation status determines dendritic spine and post-synaptic density morphology.

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Department of Cell Biology, University of Virginia School of Medicine, Charlottesville, Virginia, United States of America.


Dendritic spines in hippocampal neurons mature from a filopodia-like precursor into a mushroom-shape with an enlarged post-synaptic density (PSD) and serve as the primary post-synaptic location of the excitatory neurotransmission that underlies learning and memory. Using myosin II regulatory mutants, inhibitors, and knockdowns, we show that non-muscle myosin IIB (MIIB) activity determines where spines form and whether they persist as filopodia-like spine precursors or mature into a mushroom-shape. MIIB also determines PSD size, morphology, and placement in the spine. Local inactivation of MIIB leads to the formation of filopodia-like spine protrusions from the dendritic shaft. However, di-phosphorylation of the regulatory light chain on residues Thr18 and Ser19 by Rho kinase is required for spine maturation. Inhibition of MIIB activity or a mono-phosphomimetic mutant of RLC similarly prevented maturation even in the presence of NMDA receptor activation. Expression of an actin cross-linking, non-contractile mutant, MIIB R709C, showed that maturation into a mushroom-shape requires contractile activity. Loss of MIIB also leads to an elongated PSD morphology that is no longer restricted to the spine tip; whereas increased MIIB activity, specifically through RLC-T18, S19 di-phosphorylation, increases PSD area. These observations support a model whereby myosin II inactivation forms filopodia-like protrusions that only mature once NMDA receptor activation increases RLC di-phosphorylation to stimulate MIIB contractility, resulting in mushroom-shaped spines with an enlarged PSD.

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