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Elife. 2014 Dec 17;3. doi: 10.7554/eLife.04047.

Astrocytes refine cortical connectivity at dendritic spines.

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Department of Cell Biology, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, United States.
Department of Neurobiology, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, United States.
Department of Neurology, FM Kirby Neurobiology Center, Boston Children's Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, United States.
Department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, United States.


During cortical synaptic development, thalamic axons must establish synaptic connections despite the presence of the more abundant intracortical projections. How thalamocortical synapses are formed and maintained in this competitive environment is unknown. Here, we show that astrocyte-secreted protein hevin is required for normal thalamocortical synaptic connectivity in the mouse cortex. Absence of hevin results in a profound, long-lasting reduction in thalamocortical synapses accompanied by a transient increase in intracortical excitatory connections. Three-dimensional reconstructions of cortical neurons from serial section electron microscopy (ssEM) revealed that, during early postnatal development, dendritic spines often receive multiple excitatory inputs. Immuno-EM and confocal analyses revealed that majority of the spines with multiple excitatory contacts (SMECs) receive simultaneous thalamic and cortical inputs. Proportion of SMECs diminishes as the brain develops, but SMECs remain abundant in Hevin-null mice. These findings reveal that, through secretion of hevin, astrocytes control an important developmental synaptic refinement process at dendritic spines.


astrocytes; cell biology; dendritic spines; mouse; neuroscience; synaptogenesis; thalamocortical

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