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Prog Neurobiol. 1998 Aug;55(6):611-40.

Molecular mechanisms that underlie structural and functional changes at the postsynaptic membrane during synaptic plasticity.

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1
Neuroscience Research Group, School of Biological Sciences, University of Southampton, U.K.. wheal@soton.ac.uk

Abstract

The synaptic plasticity that is addressed in this review follows neurodegeneration in the brain and thus has both structural as well as functional components. The model of neurodegeneration that has been selected is the kainic acid lesioned hippocampus. Degeneration of the CA3 pyramidal cells results in a loss of the Schaffer collateral afferents innervating the CA1 pyramidal cells. This is followed by a period of structural plasticity where new synapses are formed. These are associated with changes in the numbers and shapes of spines as well as changes in the morphometry of the dendrites. It is suggested that this synaptogenesis is responsible for an increase in the ratio of NMDA to AMPA receptors mediating excitatory synaptic transmission at these synapses. Changes in the temporal and spatial properties of these synapses resulted in an altered balance between LTP and LTD. These properties together with a reduction in the inhibitory drive increased the excitability of the surviving CA1 pyramidal cells which in turn triggered epileptiform bursting activity. In this review we discuss the insights that may be gained from studies of the underlying molecular machinery. Developments in one of the collections of the cogs in this machinery has been summarized through recent studies characterizing the roles of neural recognition molecules in synaptic plasticity in the adult nervous systems of vertebrates and invertebrates. Such investigations of neural cell adhesion molecules, cadherins and amyloid precursor protein have shown the involvement of these molecules on the morphogenetic level of synaptic changes, on the one hand, and signal transduction effects, on the other. Further complex cogs are found in the forms of the low-density lipoprotein receptor (LDL-R) family of genes and their ligands play pivotal roles in the brain development and in regulating the growth and remodelling of neurones. Evidence is discussed for their role in the maintenance of cognitive function as well as Alzheimer's. The molecular mechanisms responsible for the clustering and maintenance of transmitter receptors at postsynaptic sites are the final cogs in the machinery that we have reviewed. Postsynaptic densities (PSD) from excitatory synapses have yielded many cytoskeletal proteins including actin, spectrin, tubulin, microtubule-associated proteins and calcium/calmodulin-dependent protein kinase II. Isolated PSDs have also been shown to be enriched in AMPA, kainate and NMDA receptors. However, recently, a new family of proteins, the MAGUKs (for membrane-associated guanylate kinase) has emerged. The role of these proteins in clustering different NMDA receptor subunits is discussed. The MAGUK proteins are also thought to play a role in synaptic plasticity mediated by nitric oxide (NO). Both NMDA and non-NMDA receptors are highly clustered at excitatory postsynaptic sites in cortical and hippocampal neurones but have revealed differences in their choice of molecular components. Both GABAA and glycine (Gly) receptors mediate synaptic inhibition in the brain and spinal cord. Whilst little is known about how GABAA receptors are localized in the postsynaptic membrane, considerable progress has been made towards the elucidation of the molecular mechanisms underlying the formation of Gly receptors. It has been shown that the peripheral membrane protein gephyrin plays a pivotal role in the formation of Gly receptor clusters most likely by anchoring the receptor to the subsynaptic cytoskeleton. Evidence for the distribution as well as function of gephyrin and Gly receptors is discussed. Postsynaptic membrane specializations are complex molecular machinery subserving a multitude of functions in the proper communication between neurones. Despite the fact that only a few key players have been identified it will be a fascinating to watch the story as to how they contribute to structural and functional plasticity unfold.

PMID:
9670221
DOI:
10.1016/s0301-0082(98)00026-4
[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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