Background: Metabotropic glutamate receptors (mGluRs) regulate neuronal excitability and synaptic strength. The group I mGluRs, mGluR1 and 5, are widespread in the brain and localize to post-synaptic sites. The Homer protein family regulates group I mGluR function and distribution. Constitutively expressed 'long' Homer proteins (Homer 1b, 1c, 2 and 3) induce dendritic localization of group I mGluRs and receptor clustering, either internally or on the plasma membrane. Short Homer proteins (Homer 1a, Ania-3) exhibit regulated expression and act as dominant negatives, producing effects on mGluR distribution and function that oppose those of the long Homer proteins. There remains some controversy over whether long Homer proteins induce receptor internalization by inducing retention in the endoplasmic reticulum, or induce mGluR clustering on the plasma membrane. Further, an exhaustive study of the effects of each long Homer isoform on mGluR distribution has not been published.
Results: The distribution of a GFP-tagged group I mGluR, mGluR1-GFP, was examined in the absence of Homer proteins and in the presence of several Homer isoforms expressed in sympathetic neurons from the rat superior cervical ganglion (SCG) using total internal reflection fluorescence (TIRF-M) and confocal microscopy. Quantitative analysis of mGluR1-GFP fluorescence using TIRF-M revealed that expression of each long Homer isoform tested (Homer 1b, 1c, 2b and 3) induced a significant degree of surface clustering. Using confocal imaging, Homer-induced mGluR clusters were observed intra-cellularly as well as on the plasma membrane. Further, in approximately 40% of neurons co-expressing mGluR1-GFP and Homer 1b, intracellular inclusions were observed, but plasma membrane clusters were also documented in some Homer 1b coexpressing cells.
Conclusion: All long Homer proteins examined (Homer 1b, 1c, 2b and 3) induced a significant degree of mGluR1-GFP clustering on the plasma membrane compared to cells expressing mGluR1-GFP alone. Clusters induced by long Homers appeared on the plasma membrane and intracellularly, suggesting that clusters form prior to plasma membrane insertion and/or persist after internalization. Finally, while Homer 1b induced surface clustering of mGluR1 in some cells, under some conditions intracellular retention may occur.