Mammalian Sterile 20 (Ste20)-like kinase 3 (MST3) is a ubiquitously expressed kinase capable of enhancing axon outgrowth. Whether and how MST3 kinase signaling might regulate development of dendritic filopodia and spine synapses is unknown. Through shRNA-mediated depletion of MST3 and kinase-dead MST3 expression in developing hippocampal cultures, we found that MST3 is necessary for proper filopodia, dendritic spine, and excitatory synapse development. Knockdown of MST3 in layer 2/3 pyramidal neurons via in utero electroporation also reduced spine density in vivo. Using chemical genetics, we discovered thirteen candidate MST3 substrates and identified the phosphorylation sites. Among the identified MST3 substrates, TAO kinases regulate dendritic filopodia and spine development, similar to MST3. Furthermore, using stable isotope labeling by amino acids in culture (SILAC), we show that phosphorylated TAO1/2 associates with Myosin Va and is necessary for its dendritic localization, thus revealing a mechanism for excitatory synapse development in the mammalian CNS.
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