Background: Drosophila discs-large (DLG) is the sole representative of a large class of mammalian MAGUKs, including human DLG, SAP 97, SAP102, and PSD-95. MAGUKs are thought to be critical for postsynaptic assembly at glutamatergic synapses. However, glutamate receptor cluster formation has never been examined in Drosophila DLG mutants. The fly neuromuscular junction (NMJ) is a genetically-malleable model glutamatergic synapse widely used to address questions regarding the molecular mechanisms of synapse formation and growth. Here, we use immunohistochemistry, confocal microscopy, and electrophysiology to examine whether fly NMJ glutamate receptor clusters form normally in DLG mutants. We also address the question of how DLG itself is localized to the synapse by testing whether presynaptic innervation is required for postsynaptic DLG clustering, and whether DLG localization requires the presence of postsynaptic glutamate receptors.
Results: There are thought to be two classes of glutamate receptors in the Drosophila NMJ: 1) receptors that contain the subunit GluRIIA, and 2) receptors that contain the subunit GluRIIB. In DLG mutants, antibody staining for the glutamate receptor subunit GluRIIA is normal, but antibody staining for the glutamate receptor subunit GluRIIB is significantly reduced. Electrophysiological analysis shows an overall loss of functional postsynaptic glutamate receptors, along with changes in receptor biophysical properties that are consistent with a selective loss of GluRIIB from the synapse. In uninnervated postsynaptic muscles, neither glutamate receptors nor DLG cluster at synapses. DLG clusters normally in the complete absence of glutamate receptors.
Conclusions: Our results suggest that DLG controls glutamate receptor subunit composition by selectively stabilizing GluRIIB-containing receptors at the synapse. We also show that DLG, like glutamate receptors, is localized only after the presynaptic neuron contacts the postsynaptic cell. We hypothesize that glutamate receptors and DLG cluster in response to parallel signals from the presynaptic neuron, after which DLG regulates subunit composition by stabilizing (probably indirectly) receptors that contain the GluRIIB subunit. The mechanism(s) stabilizing GluRIIA-containing receptors remains unknown.