During cortical synaptic development, thalamic axons must establish synaptic connections despite the presence of the more abundant intracortical projections. How thalamocortical synapses are formed and maintained in this competitive environment is unknown. Here, we show that astrocyte-secreted protein hevin is required for normal thalamocortical synaptic connectivity in the mouse cortex. Absence of hevin results in a profound, long-lasting reduction in thalamocortical synapses accompanied by a transient increase in intracortical excitatory connections. Three-dimensional reconstructions of cortical neurons from serial section electron microscopy (ssEM) revealed that, during early postnatal development, dendritic spines often receive multiple excitatory inputs. Immuno-EM and confocal analyses revealed that majority of the spines with multiple excitatory contacts (SMECs) receive simultaneous thalamic and cortical inputs. Proportion of SMECs diminishes as the brain develops, but SMECs remain abundant in Hevin-null mice. These findings reveal that, through secretion of hevin, astrocytes control an important developmental synaptic refinement process at dendritic spines.
Animal experimentation: This study was performed in strict accordance with the recommendations in the Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals of the National Institutes of Health. All of the animals were handled according to approved institutional animal care and use committee (IACUC) protocol (# A195-11-08) of Duke University Medical Center. The mice were euthanized by following the approved protocols which were performed under avertin anesthesia, and every effort was made to minimize suffering.
- Liqun Luo, Reviewing Editor, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Stanford University, United States
© 2014, Risher et al.
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