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J Cell Biol. 1997 Feb 10;136(3):679-92.

Intrinsic neuronal determinants locally regulate extrasynaptic and synaptic growth at the adult neuromuscular junction.

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Friedrich Miescher Institute, Basel, Switzerland.


Long-term functional plasticity in the nervous system can involve structural changes in terminal arborization and synaptic connections. To determine whether the differential expression of intrinsic neuronal determinants affects structural plasticity, we produced and analyzed transgenic mice overexpressing the cytosolic proteins cortical cytoskeleton-associated protein 23 (CAP-23) and growth-associated protein 43 (GAP-43) in adult neurons. Like GAP-43, CAP-23 was downregulated in mouse motor nerves and neuromuscular junctions during the second postnatal week and reexpressed during regeneration. In transgenic mice, the expression of either protein in adult motoneurons induced spontaneous and greatly potentiated stimulus-induced nerve sprouting at the neuromuscular junction. This sprouting had transgene-specific features, with CAP-23 inducing longer, but less numerous sprouts than GAP-43. Crossing of the transgenic mice led to dramatic potentiation of the sprout-inducing activities of GAP-43 and CAP-23, indicating that these related proteins have complementary and synergistic activities. In addition to ultraterminal sprouting, substantial growth of synaptic structures was induced. Experiments with pre- and postsynaptic toxins revealed that in the presence of GAP-43 or CAP-23, sprouting was stimulated by a mechanism that responds to reduced transmitter release and may be independent of postsynaptic activation. These results demonstrate the importance of intrinsic determinants in structural plasticity and provide an experimental approach to study its role in nervous system function.

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