Astrocytic Neuroligins Are Not Required for Synapse Formation or a Normal Astrocyte Cytoarchitecture

  1. Dept. of Molecular and Cellular Physiology, Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, CA 94305, USA
  2. Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, CA 94305, USA

Peer review process

Not revised: This Reviewed Preprint includes the authors’ original preprint (without revision), an eLife assessment, public reviews, and a response from the authors (if available).

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  • Reviewing Editor
    Lisa Monteggia
    Vanderbilt University, Nashville, United States of America
  • Senior Editor
    Ma-Li Wong
    State University of New York Upstate Medical University, Syracuse, United States of America

Reviewer #1 (Public Review):

Astrocytes are known to express neuroligins 1-3. Within neurons, these cell adhesion molecules perform important roles in synapse formation and function. Within astrocytes, a significant role for neuroligin 2 in determining excitatory synapse formation and astrocyte morphology was shown in 2017. However, there has been no assessment of what happens to synapses or astrocyte morphology when all three major forms of neuroligins within astrocytes (isoforms 1-3) are deleted using a well characterized, astrocyte specific, and inducible cre line. By using such selective mouse genetic methods, the authors here show that astrocytic neuroligin 1-3 expression in astrocytes is not consequential for synapse function or for astrocyte morphology. They reach these conclusions with careful experiments employing quantitative western blot analyses, imaging and electrophysiology. They also characterize the specificity of the cre line they used. Overall, this is a very clear and strong paper that is supported by rigorous experiments. The discussion considers the findings carefully in relation to past work. This paper is of high importance, because it now raises the fundamental question of exactly what neuroligins 1-3 are actually doing in astrocytes. In addition, it enriches our understanding of the mechanisms by which astrocytes participate in synapse formation and function. The paper is very clear, well written and well illustrated with raw and average data.

Reviewer #2 (Public Review):

In the present manuscript, Golf et al. investigate the consequences of astrocyte-specific deletion of Neuroligin family cell adhesion proteins on synapse structure and function in the brain. Decades of prior research had shown that Neuroligins mediate their effects at synapses through their role in the postsynaptic compartment of neurons and their transsynaptic interaction with presynaptic Neurexins. More recently, it was proposed for the first time that Neuroligins expressed by astrocytes can also bind to presynaptic Neurexins to regulate synaptogenesis (Stogsdill et al. 2017, Nature). However, several aspects of the model proposed by Stogsdill et al. on astrocytic Neuroligin function conflict with prior evidence on the role of Neuroligins at synapses, prompting Golf et al. to further investigate astrocytic Neuroligin function in the current study. Using postnatal conditional deletion of Neuroligins 1, 2 and 3 specifically from astrocytes, Golf et al. show that virtually no changes in the expression of synaptic proteins or in the properties of synaptic transmission at either excitatory or inhibitory synapses are observed. Moreover, no alterations in the morphology of astrocytes themselves were found. The authors conclude that while Neuroligins are indeed expressed in astrocytes and are hence likely to play some role there, this role does not include any direct consequences on synaptic structure and function, in direct contrast to the model proposed by Stogsdill et al.

Overall, this is a strong study that addresses an important and highly relevant question in the field of synaptic neuroscience. Neuroligins are not only key regulators of synaptic function, they have also been linked to numerous psychiatric and neurodevelopmental disorders, highlighting the need to precisely define their mechanisms of action. The authors take a wide range of approaches to convincingly demonstrate that under their experimental conditions, no alterations in the levels of synaptic proteins or in synaptic transmission at excitatory or inhibitory synapses, or in the morphology of astrocytes, are observed.

One caveat to this study is that the authors do not directly provide evidence that their Tamoxifen-inducible conditional deletion paradigm does indeed result in efficient deletion of all three Neuroligins from astrocytes. Using a Cre-dependent tdTomato reporter line, they show that tdTomato expression is efficiently induced by the current paradigm, and they refer to a prior study showing efficient deletion of Neuroligins from neurons using the same conditional Nlgn1-3 mouse lines but a different Cre driver strategy. However, neither of these approaches directly provide evidence that all three Neuroligins are indeed deleted from astrocytes in the current study. In contrast, Stogsdill et al. employed FACS and qPCR to directly quantify the loss of Nlgn2 mRNA from astrocytes. This leaves the current Golf et al. study somewhat vulnerable to the criticism, however unlikely, that their lack of synaptic effects may be a consequence of incomplete Neuroligin deletion, rather than a true lack of effect of astrocytic Neuroligins.

Reviewer #3 (Public Review):

This study investigates the roles of astrocytes in the regulation of synapse development and astrocyte morphology using conditional KO mice carrying mutations of three neuroligins1-3 in astrocytes with the deletion starting at two different time points (P1 and P10/11). The authors use morphological, electrophysiological, and cell-biological approaches and find that there are no differences in synapse formation and astrocyte cytoarchitecture in the mutant hippocampus and visual cortex. These results differ from the previous results (Stogsdill et al., 2017), although the authors make several discussion points on how the differences could have been induced. This study provides important information on how astrocytes and neurons interact with each other to coordinate neural development and function. The experiments were well-designed, and the data are of high quality.

  1. Howard Hughes Medical Institute
  2. Wellcome Trust
  3. Max-Planck-Gesellschaft
  4. Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation