The formation of neural circuits relies on axonal and dendritic growth, precise guidance events during development, recognition of appropriate target cells, and the subsequent formation and refinement of synaptic connections. Characterization of each of these stages is critical for understanding the assembly of neuron circuits that mediate all behavior. Deficits in these developmental processes underlie cognitive impairments associated with disease and neurologic disorders. Indeed, aberrant dendritic morphologies and synapses are associated with a range of neuropsychiatric disorders, underscoring the need for understanding the cellular and molecular basis of these events during circuit formation. The objective of this work is to understand how extracellular cues present within the postnatal brain control the morphological development of projection neurons whose cell bodies are located within layer V of the cortex. We will elucidate the functions and mechanisms of action of secreted members of the semaphorin protein family of guidance cues and their neuropilin and plexin receptors on the morphological development of these neurons. Our preliminary work shows that semaphorin 3F (Sema3F) and its neuropilin-2 (Npn-2) receptor function in vivo to govern cortical pyramidal neuron apical dendritic spine morphology and synaptogenesis, whereas semaphorin 3A (Sema3A) promotes the elaboration of basal dendritic arbors. Thus, structurally related cues instruct distinct steps in the development of layer V pyramidal neurons, the location, morphology, and number of synapses that form upon them, and hence the genesis of normal functioning cortical circuits. Mechanistically, we found that localization of the Npn-2 receptor is restricted to primary apical dendritic processes, while Npn-1 is located on both basal and apical dendrites. In addition, Npn-2 is enriched at sites of synapse formation-the PSD. These findings lead to the hypothesis that semaphorin receptor localization underlies Sema3A and Sema3F specificity of action. We propose here to investigate the regulation of neuropilin and plexin receptor distribution, secreted semaphorin receptor signaling mechanisms, and the source and mode of action of these semaphorin ligands during postnatal cortical neuron development. Since our findings will shed light on the mechanisms underlying spatially restricted regulation of dendritic morphology and synapses, the proposed Aims will begin to address how complex cortical connectivity patterns are generated and maintained. Finally, while the focus of the proposed work is on the morphologic and synaptic development of the primary projection neuron of the cortex, the layer V pyramidal neuron, the discoveries made here will have important implications for defining the molecular and cellular basis of neural circuit assembly throughout the brain.
The proposed studies will define the molecular mechanisms that organize precise and spatially restricted neuronal connectively patterns in the mammalian cortex. These discoveries will provide new insight into our current understanding of how neuronal morphology and connections are formed in the brain. Importantly, since aberrant neuronal morphology and synapses in the cortex are associated with a range of neuropsychiatric disorders, this work will inform diagnostic and therapeutic strategies for ameliorating these disorders.
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