MET, a replicated autism risk gene, encodes a pleiotropic receptor tyrosine kinase implicated in multiple cellular processes during development and following injury. Previous studies suggest that Met modulates excitatory synapse development in the neocortex and hippocampus, although the underlying mechanism is unknown. The peak of Met expression corresponds to the period of process outgrowth and synaptogenesis, with robust expression in hippocampal and neocortical neuropil. Resolving whether neuropil expression represents presynaptic, postsynaptic or glial localization provides insight into potential mechanisms of Met action. The subcellular distribution of Met was characterized using complementary ultrastructural, in situ proximity ligation assay (PLA), and biochemical approaches. At postnatal day (P) 7, immunoelectron microscopy revealed near-equivalent proportions of Met-immunoreactive pre- (axons and terminals) and postsynaptic (dendritic shafts and spines) profiles in the stratum radiatum in the hippocampal CA1 region. Staining was typically in elements in which the corresponding pre- or postsynaptic apposition was unlabeled. By P21, Met-immunoreactive presynaptic profiles predominated and ~20% of Met-expressing profiles were glial. A different distribution of Met-immunoreactive profiles was observed in layer V of somatosensory cortex: Met-labeled spines were rare and a smaller proportion of glial profiles expressed Met. Strikingly, Met-immunoreactive presynaptic profiles predominated over postsynaptic profiles as early as P7. PLA analysis of neurons in vitro and biochemical analysis of tissue subsynaptic fractions confirmed the localization of Met in specific synaptic subcompartments. The study demonstrates that Met is enriched at synapses during development and its activation may modulate synapse formation and stability through both pre- and postsynaptic mechanisms.
Keywords: axon; dendritic spine; hepatocyte growth factor; receptor tyrosine kinase; synaptogenesis.
© 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.