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Nature. 2012 May 13;486(7401):122-5. doi: 10.1038/nature11033.

α2δ expression sets presynaptic calcium channel abundance and release probability.

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Department of Biochemistry, Weill Cornell Medical College, New York, New York 10023, USA.


Synaptic neurotransmitter release is driven by Ca(2+) influx through active zone voltage-gated calcium channels (VGCCs). Control of active zone VGCC abundance and function remains poorly understood. Here we show that a trafficking step probably sets synaptic VGCC levels in rats, because overexpression of the pore-forming α1(A) VGCC subunit fails to change synaptic VGCC abundance or function. α2δs are a family of glycosylphosphatidylinositol (GPI)-anchored VGCC-associated subunits that, in addition to being the target of the potent neuropathic analgesics gabapentin and pregabalin (α2δ-1 and α2δ-2), were also identified in a forward genetic screen for pain genes (α2δ-3). We show that these proteins confer powerful modulation of presynaptic function through two distinct molecular mechanisms. First, α2δ subunits set synaptic VGCC abundance, as predicted from their chaperone-like function when expressed in non-neuronal cells. Second, α2δs configure synaptic VGCCs to drive exocytosis through an extracellular metal ion-dependent adhesion site (MIDAS), a conserved set of amino acids within the predicted von Willebrand A domain of α2δ. Expression of α2δ with an intact MIDAS motif leads to an 80% increase in release probability, while simultaneously protecting exocytosis from blockade by an intracellular Ca(2+) chelator. α2δs harbouring MIDAS site mutations still drive synaptic accumulation of VGCCs; however, they no longer change release probability or sensitivity to intracellular Ca(2+) chelators. Our data reveal dual functionality of these clinically important VGCC subunits, allowing synapses to make more efficient use of Ca(2+) entry to drive neurotransmitter release.

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