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PLoS One. 2013 Nov 1;8(11):e79679. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0079679. eCollection 2013.

N-cadherin relocalizes from the periphery to the center of the synapse after transient synaptic stimulation in hippocampal neurons.

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Department of Neurology and Neurosurgery, Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada ; Program in Neuroengineering, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.


N-cadherin is a cell adhesion molecule which is enriched at synapses. Binding of N-cadherin molecules to each other across the synaptic cleft has been postulated to stabilize adhesion between the presynaptic bouton and the postsynaptic terminal. N-cadherin is also required for activity-induced changes at synapses, including hippocampal long term potentiation and activity-induced spine expansion and stabilization. We hypothesized that these activity-dependent changes might involve changes in N-cadherin localization within synapses. To determine whether synaptic activity changes the localization of N-cadherin, we used structured illumination microscopy, a super-resolution approach which overcomes the conventional resolution limits of light microscopy, to visualize the localization of N-cadherin within synapses of hippocampal neurons. We found that synaptic N-cadherin exhibits a spectrum of localization patterns, ranging from puncta at the periphery of the synapse adjacent to the active zone to an even distribution along the synaptic cleft. Furthermore, the N-cadherin localization pattern within synapses changes during KCl depolarization and after transient synaptic stimulation. During KCl depolarization, N-cadherin relocalizes away from the central region of the synaptic cleft to the periphery of the synapse. In contrast, after transient synaptic stimulation with KCl followed by a period of rest in normal media, fewer synapses have N-cadherin present as puncta at the periphery and more synapses have N-cadherin present more centrally and uniformly along the synapse compared to unstimulated cells. This indicates that transient synaptic stimulation modulates N-cadherin localization within the synapse. These results bring new information to the structural organization and activity-induced changes occurring at synapses, and suggest that N-cadherin relocalization may contribute to activity dependent changes at synapses.

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