Neurexins (NXs) and neuroligins (NLs) are transsynaptically interacting cell adhesion proteins that play a key role in the formation, maturation, activity-dependent validation, and maintenance of synapses. As complex alternative splicing processes in nerve cells generate a large number of NX and NLs variants, it has been proposed that a combinatorial interaction code generated by these variants may determine synapse identity and network connectivity during brain development. The functional importance of NXs and NLs is exemplified by the fact that mutations in NX and NL genes are associated with several neuropsychiatric disorders, most notably with autism. Accordingly, major research efforts have focused on the molecular mechanisms by which NXs and NLs operate at synapses. In this review, we summarize recent progress in this field and discuss emerging topics, such as the role of alternative interaction partners of NXs and NLs in synapse formation and function, and their relevance for synaptic plasticity in the mature brain. The novel findings highlight the fundamental importance of NX-NL interactions in a wide range of synaptic functions.
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