Neural cells secrete diverse molecules, which accumulate in the extracellular space and form the extracellular matrix (ECM). Interactions between cells and the ECM are well recognized to play the crucial role in cell migration and guidance of growing axons, whereas formation of mature neural ECM in the form of perineuronal nets is believed to restrict certain forms of developmental plasticity. On the other hand, major components of perineuronal nets and other ECM molecules support induction of functional plasticity, the most studied form of which is long-term potentiation. Here, we review the underlying mechanisms by which ECM molecules, their receptors and remodeling proteases regulate the induction and maintenance of synaptic modifications. In particular, we highlight that activity-dependent secretion and activation of proteases leads to a local cleavage of the ECM and release of signaling proteolytic fragments. These molecules regulate transmitter receptor trafficking, actin cytoskeleton, growth of dendritic spines, and formation of dendritic filopodia.
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