Rapid reorganization and stabilization of the actin cytoskeleton in dendritic spines enables cellular processes underlying learning, such as long-term potentiation (LTP). Dendritic spines are enriched in exceptionally short and dynamic actin filaments, but the studies so far have not revealed the molecular mechanisms underlying the high actin dynamics in dendritic spines. Here, we show that actin in dendritic spines is dynamically phosphorylated at tyrosine-53 (Y53) in rat hippocampal and cortical neurons. Our findings show that actin phosphorylation increases the turnover rate of actin filaments and promotes the short-term dynamics of dendritic spines. During neuronal maturation, actin phosphorylation peaks at the first weeks of morphogenesis, when dendritic spines form, and the amount of Y53-phosphorylated actin decreases when spines mature and stabilize. Induction of LTP transiently increases the amount of phosphorylated actin and LTP induction is deficient in neurons expressing mutant actin that mimics phosphorylation. Actin phosphorylation provides a molecular mechanism to maintain the high actin dynamics in dendritic spines during neuronal development and to induce fast reorganization of the actin cytoskeleton in synaptic plasticity. In turn, dephosphorylation of actin is required for the stabilization of actin filaments that is necessary for proper dendritic spine maturation and LTP maintenance.
Significance statement: Dendritic spines are small protrusions from neuronal dendrites where the postsynaptic components of most excitatory synapses reside. Precise control of dendritic spine morphology and density is critical for normal brain function. Accordingly, aberrant spine morphology is linked to many neurological diseases. The actin cytoskeleton is a structural element underlying the proper morphology of dendritic spines. Therefore, defects in the regulation of the actin cytoskeleton in neurons have been implicated in neurological diseases. Here, we revealed a novel mechanism for regulating neuronal actin cytoskeleton that explains the specific organization and dynamics of actin in spines. The better we understand the regulation of the dendritic spine morphology, the better we understand what goes wrong in neurological diseases.
Keywords: LTP; actin cytoskeleton; dendritic spines; phosphorylation; spinogenesis; synaptic plasticity.
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