Biophysical mechanisms underlying the membrane trafficking of synaptic adhesion molecules


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Adhesion proteins play crucial roles at synapses, not only by providing a physical trans-synaptic linkage between axonal and dendritic membranes, but also by connecting to functional elements including the pre-synaptic neurotransmitter release machinery and post-synaptic receptors. To mediate these functions, adhesion proteins must be organized on the neuronal surface in a precise and controlled manner. Recent studies have started to describe the mobility, nanoscale organization, and turnover rate of key synaptic adhesion molecules including cadherins, neurexins, neuroligins, SynCAMs, and LRRTMs, and show that some of these proteins are highly mobile in the plasma membrane while others are confined at sub-synaptic compartments, providing evidence for different regulatory pathways. In this review article, we provide a biophysical view of the diffusional trapping of adhesion molecules at synapses, involving both extracellular and intracellular protein interactions. We review the methodology underlying these measurements, including biomimetic systems with purified adhesion proteins, means to perturb protein expression or function, single molecule imaging in cultured neurons, and analytical models to interpret the data.
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