Background: Development of the neuromuscular junction (NMJ) is initiated by the formation of postsynaptic specializations in the central zones of muscles, followed by the arrival of motor nerve terminals opposite the postsynaptic regions. The post- and presynaptic components are then stabilized and modified to form mature synapses. Roles of ADAM (A Disintegrin And Metalloprotease) family proteins in the formation of the NMJ have not been reported previously.
Principal findings: We report here that Meltrin beta, ADAM19, participates in the formation of the NMJ. The zone of acetylcholine receptor alpha mRNA distribution was broader and excess sprouting of motor nerve terminals was more prominent in meltrin beta-deficient than in wild-type embryonic diaphragms. A microarray analysis revealed that the preferential distribution of ephrin-A5 mRNA in the synaptic region of muscles was aberrant in the meltrin beta-deficient muscles. Excess sprouting of motor nerve terminals was also found in ephrin-A5 knockout mice, which lead us to investigate a possible link between Meltrin beta and ephrin-A5-Eph signaling in the development of the NMJ. Meltrin beta and EphA4 interacted with each other in developing motor neurons, and both of these proteins localized in the NMJ. Coexpression of Meltrin beta and EphA4 strongly blocked vesicular internalization of ephrin-A5-EphA4 complexes without requiring the protease activity of Meltrin beta, suggesting a regulatory role of Meltrin beta in ephrin-A5-Eph signaling.
Conclusion: Meltrin beta plays a regulatory role in formation of the NMJ. The endocytosis of ephrin-Eph complexes is required for efficient contact-dependent repulsion between ephrin and Eph. We propose that Meltrin beta stabilizes the interaction between ephrin-A5 and EphA4 by regulating endocytosis of the ephrinA5-EphA complex negatively, which would contribute to the fine-tuning of the NMJ during development.