Society for Neuroscience, Journal of Neuroscience, 50(28), p. 13673-13683
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SynGAP, a prominent Ras/Rap GTPase-activating protein in the postsynaptic density, regulates the timing of spine formation and trafficking of glutamate receptors in cultured neurons. However, the molecular mechanisms by which it does this are unknown. Here we show that synGAP is a key regulator of spine morphology in adult mice. Heterozygous deletion of synGAP was sufficient to cause an excess of mushroom spines in adult brains, indicating that synGAP is involved in steady-state regulation of actin in mature spines. Both Ras- and Rac-GTP levels were elevated in forebrains from adult synGAP+/- mice. Rac is a well-known regulator of actin polymerization and spine morphology. The steady-state level of phosphorylation of cofilin was also elevated in synGAP+/- mice. Cofilin, an F-actin severing protein that is inactivated by phosphorylation, is a downstream target of a pathway regulated by Rac. We show that transient regulation of cofilin by treatment with NMDA is also disrupted in synGAP mutant neurons. Treatment of wild type neurons with 25 μM N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) triggered transient dephosphorylation and activation of cofilin within 15 sec. In contrast, neurons cultured from mice with a homozygous or heterozygous deletion of synGAP lacked the transient regulation by the NMDA receptor. Depression of EPSPs induced by a similar treatment of hippocampal slices with NMDA was disrupted in slices from synGAP+/- mice. Our data show that synGAP mediates a rate-limiting step in steady-state regulation of spine morphology and in transient NMDA-receptor dependent regulation of the spine cytoskeleton.