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J Neurosci. 2017 Jul 5;37(27):6442-6459. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3520-16.2017. Epub 2017 Jun 2.

βIII Spectrin Is Necessary for Formation of the Constricted Neck of Dendritic Spines and Regulation of Synaptic Activity in Neurons.

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Department of Biology, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19104.
Department of Pathology, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut 06510.
Department of Neuroscience, University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19104.
Center for Biologic Imaging, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15261, and.
Department of Animal Biology, University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19104.
Department of Biology, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19104,


Dendritic spines are postsynaptic structures in neurons often having a mushroom-like shape. Physiological significance and cytoskeletal mechanisms that maintain this shape are poorly understood. The spectrin-based membrane skeleton maintains the biconcave shape of erythrocytes, but whether spectrins also determine the shape of nonerythroid cells is less clear. We show that βIII spectrin in hippocampal and cortical neurons from rodent embryos of both sexes is distributed throughout the somatodendritic compartment but is particularly enriched in the neck and base of dendritic spines and largely absent from spine heads. Electron microscopy revealed that βIII spectrin forms a detergent-resistant cytoskeletal network at these sites. Knockdown of βIII spectrin results in a significant decrease in the density of dendritic spines. Surprisingly, the density of presynaptic terminals is not affected by βIII spectrin knockdown. However, instead of making normal spiny synapses, the presynaptic structures in βIII spectrin-depleted neurons make shaft synapses that exhibit increased amplitudes of miniature EPSCs indicative of excessive postsynaptic excitation. Thus, βIII spectrin is necessary for formation of the constricted shape of the spine neck, which in turn controls communication between the synapse and the parent dendrite to prevent excessive excitation. Notably, mutations of SPTNB2 encoding βIII spectrin are associated with neurodegenerative syndromes, spinocerebellar ataxia Type 5, and spectrin-associated autosomal recessive cerebellar ataxia Type 1, but molecular mechanisms linking βIII spectrin functions to neuronal pathologies remain unresolved. Our data suggest that spinocerebellar ataxia Type 5 and spectrin-associated autosomal recessive cerebellar ataxia Type 1 pathology likely arises from poorly controlled synaptic activity that leads to excitotoxicity and neurodegeneration.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Dendritic spines are small protrusions from neuronal dendrites that make synapses with axons of other neurons in the brain. Dendritic spines usually have a mushroom-like shape, which is essential for brain functions, because aberrant spine morphology is associated with many neuropsychiatric disorders. The bulbous head of a mushroom-shaped spine makes the synapse, whereas the narrow neck transmits the incoming signals to the dendrite and supposedly controls the signal propagation. We show that a cytoskeletal protein βIII spectrin plays a key role for the formation of narrow spine necks. In the absence of βIII spectrin, dendritic spines collapse onto dendrites. As a result, synaptic strength exceeds acceptable levels and damages neurons, explaining pathology of human syndromes caused by βIII spectrin mutations.


cytoskeleton; dendritic spines; electron microscopy; hippocampal neurons; spectrin; synapse

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