Although neurotrophins are critical for neuronal survival and differentiation, recent studies suggest that they also regulate synaptic plasticity. Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) rapidly increases synaptic transmission in hippocampal neurons, and enhances long-term potentiation (LTP), a cellular and molecular model of learning and memory. Loci and precise mechanisms of BDNF action remain to be defined: evidence supports both pre- and postsynaptic sites of action. To help elucidate the synaptic mechanisms of BDNF action, we used antisera directed against the extracellular and intracellular domains of trkB receptors, anti-trkBout and anti-trkBin, respectively, to localize the receptors in relation to synapses. Synaptic localization of BDNF was examined in parallel using anti-BDNF antisera. By light microscopy, trkBin and trkBout immunoreactivities were localized to hippocampal neurons and all layers of the overlying visual cortex. Immunoelectron microscopic analysis of the cerebral cortex revealed that trkB and BDNF localize discretely to postsynaptic densities (PSD) of axo-spinous asymmetric synaptic junctions, that are the morphological correlates of excitatory, glutamatergic synapses. TrkB immunoreactivity was also detected in the nucleoplasm by light and electron microscopy. Western blot analysis indicated that both anti-trkBout and anti-trkBin antisera react with a protein band in the PSD corresponding to the molecular weight expected for trkB; however, molecular species distinct from that for trkB were recognized in the nuclear fraction by both anti-trkBin and anti-trkBout antisera, indicating that the nuclear immunoreactivity, seen by immunocytochemistry, reflects cross-reactivity with proteins closely related to, but distinct from, trkB. The PSD localization of both BDNF and trkB supports the contention that this receptor/ligand pair participates in postsynaptic plasticity.
Copyright 2000 Wiley-Liss, Inc.