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Cell Logist. 2016 Jan 19;5(4):e1133266. eCollection 2015 Oct-Dec.

ROCK1 and ROCK2 inhibition alters dendritic spine morphology in hippocampal neurons.

Author information

1
Department of Pharmacology; Emory University School of Medicine ; Atlanta, GA USA.
2
Department of Cell Biology; Emory University School of Medicine ; Atlanta; GA USA.
3
Center for Neurodegeneration and Experimental Therapeutics; University of Alabama at Birmingham; Birmingham, AL USA; Department of Neurology; University of Alabama at Birmingham; Birmingham, AL USA.

Abstract

Communication among neurons is mediated through synaptic connections between axons and dendrites, and most excitatory synapses occur on actin-rich protrusions along dendrites called dendritic spines. Dendritic spines are structurally dynamic, and synapse strength is closely correlated with spine morphology. Abnormalities in the size, shape, and number of dendritic spines are prevalent in neurologic diseases, including autism spectrum disorders, schizophrenia, and Alzheimer disease. However, therapeutic targets that influence spine morphology are lacking. Rho-associated coiled-coil containing protein kinases (ROCK) 1 and ROCK2 are potent regulators of the actin cytoskeleton and highly promising drug targets for central nervous system disorders. In this report, we addressed how pharmacologic inhibition of ROCK1 and ROCK2 affects dendritic spine morphology. Hippocampal neurons were transfected with plasmids expressing fluorescently labeled Lifeact, a small actin binding peptide, and then incubated with or without Y-27632, an established pan-ROCK small molecule inhibitor. Using an automated 3D spine morphometry analysis method, we showed that inhibition of ROCK1 and ROCK2 significantly increased the mean protrusion density and significantly reduced the mean protrusion width. A trending increase in mean protrusion length was observed following Y-27632 treatment, and novel effects were observed among spine classes. Exposure to Y-27632 significantly increased the number of filopodia and thin spines, while the numbers of stubby and mushroom spines were similar to mock-treated samples. These findings support the hypothesis that pharmacologic inhibition of ROCK1 and ROCK2 may convey therapeutic benefit for neurologic disorders that feature dendritic spine loss or aberrant structural plasticity.

KEYWORDS:

Automated image analysis; Dendritic spine morphology; Hippocampal neurons; ROCK1; ROCK2; Rho kinase; RhoA

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