GSBS Dissertations and Theses


The Role of Cell Adhesion, the Cytoskeleton, and Membrane Trafficking during Synapse Outgrowth: A Dissertation

Publication Date


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Academic Program



Department of Neurobiology; Budnik Lab

First Thesis Advisor

Vivian Budnik, PhD


synapse, synaptic plasticity, Drosophila, neuromuscular junction, cell adhesion molecules, cytoskeleton


Neuronal Plasticity; Synapses; Cell Adhesion Molecules; Microtubule Proteins; Protein Transport; Dissertations, UMMS


The synapse, the minimal element required for interneuronal communication in the nervous sytems, is a structure with a great deal of plasticity, capable of undergoing changes that alter transmission strength, and even forming new connections. This property has great implications for a number of processes, including circuit formation and learning and memory. However, the proteins behind this synaptic plasticity are still not fully understood. To uncover and characterize the proteins that regulate the plastic nature of the synapse, I turned to the Drosophilalarval neuromuscular junction (NMJ), a powerful and accessible model system.

I began by examining synaptic cell adhesion, as Cell Adhesion Molecules (CAMs) have long been implicated in synaptic outgrowth as well as learning and memory. CAMs have traditionally been thought of as molecules that mediate cell adhesion between the pre- and postsynaptic membrane. However, through the course of the studies presented here I demonstrate a CAM function that goes beyond simple cell adhesion, acting as a receptor that transduces adhesive signals to the intracellular space. In particular, I have demonstrated a role for the Drosophila CAM, Fasciclin II(FasII), in a signaling complex involving the Amyloid Precursor Protein-Like (APPL) and the Drosophila homolog of X11/MINT/Lin-10 (dX11). Further results show that deletion of either APPL or dX11 inhibits the FasII mediated outgrowth. These studies show that during NMJ expansion the transinteraction between FasII molecules in the pre- and postsynaptic membrane results in the recruitment of APPL and dX11 to the presynaptic cell surface, and the initiation of a signaling cascade that leads to bouton outgrowth.

The next question addressed here was regarding the cytoskeletal changes that must occur during synapse remodeling. In particular I centered on the evolutionarily conserved cell polarity complex aPKC-Par3-Par6, which is know to regulate axon growth, the cell cytoskeleton during polarized cell division, and learning and memory. To understand the role of the cytoskeleton during NMJ expansion, I examined the organization of microtubules and actin during this process. Further, I identified atypical protein kinase C (aPKC) as a regulator of microtubule dynamics. I found that aPKC is required for regulating the degree of stabilization of synaptic microtubules. This stabilization requires the Microtubule Associated Protein-1B (MAP1B) homolog Futsch, which I demonstrated was required for aPKC to associate with and stabilize the microtubule cytoskeleton.

The process of synaptic expansion not only requires modifications to the presynapse, but to the postsynapse as well. Previous work demonstrates that levels of the scaffolding proteins DrosophilaMembrane Associated Guanlyate Kinase (MAGUK) protein Discs-large (DLG), as well as the vertebrate homolog Postsynaptic Density-95 (PSD-95), which are concentrated at synapses, determine the size of postsynaptic membranes. To identify the underlying mechanisms of the regulation of postsynaptic size, we performed a yeast two hybrid screen, searching for DLG interacting proteins. We found a novel interaction between DLG, and a t-SNARE, GUK-interacting Syntaxin (Gtaxin; GTX), and went on to demonstrate that this interaction is required for proper postsynaptic membrane addition. Strong hypomorphic mutations in either dlg or gtx show a dramatic reduction in postsynaptic expansion. Overexpression of DLG produces an increase of synaptic GTX, as well as an increase in postsynaptic size, and an increased formation of GTX positive SNARE complexes. Taken together, these observations suggest that the MAGUK DLG regulates postsynaptic membrane addition by modulating the formation of a SNARE complex of the t-SNARE Gtaxin, and by targeting GTX to sites of postsynaptic membrane addition.

In summary, the studies performed in this thesis probe a trans-synaptic adhesion based signaling complex required for presynaptic expansion, a specific pathway for dynamic microtubule stabilization required for pre- and postsynaptic expansion, and how a scaffolding protein regulates postsynaptic membrane expansion. These processes are all interconnected to maintain the efficacy of the synapse. The studies conducted revealed important information about how these processes are accomplished, and constitute an important step to elucidate the mechanisms by which synapse plasticity occurs at the level of single synaptic terminals.


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