Dimerization of postsynaptic neuroligin drives synaptic assembly via transsynaptic clustering of neurexin

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2012 Nov 20;109(47):19432-7. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1217633109. Epub 2012 Nov 5.


The transsynaptic complex of neuroligin (NLGN) and neurexin forms a physical connection between pre- and postsynaptic neurons that occurs early in the course of new synapse assembly. Both neuroligin and neurexin have, indeed, been proposed to exhibit active, instructive roles in the formation of synapses. However, the process by which these instructive roles play out during synaptogenesis is not well understood. Here, we examine one aspect of postsynaptic neuroligin with regard to its synaptogenic properties: its basal state as a constitutive dimer. We show that dimerization is required for the synaptogenic properties of neuroligin and likely serves to induce presynaptic differentiation via a transsynaptic clustering of neurexin. Further, we introduce chemically inducible, exogenous dimerization domains to the neuroligin molecule, effectively bestowing chemical control of neuroligin dimerization. This allows us to identify the acute requirements of neuroligin dimerization by chemically manipulating the monomeric-to-dimeric conversion of neuroligin. Based on the results of the inducible dimerization experiments, we propose a model in which dimerized neuroligin induces the mechanical clustering of presynaptic molecules as part of a requisite step in the coordinated assembly of a chemical synapse.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Adhesion Molecules, Neuronal / chemistry
  • Cell Adhesion Molecules, Neuronal / metabolism*
  • Cluster Analysis
  • Mutant Proteins / metabolism
  • Mutation / genetics
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins / chemistry
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins / metabolism*
  • Phenotype
  • Protein Multimerization*
  • Protein Structure, Tertiary
  • Rats
  • Synapses / metabolism*


  • Cell Adhesion Molecules, Neuronal
  • Mutant Proteins
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins