Neural circuit wiring relies on selective synapse formation whereby a presynaptic release apparatus is matched with its cognate postsynaptic machinery. At metabotropic synapses, the molecular mechanisms underlying this process are poorly understood. In the mammalian retina, rod photoreceptors form selective contacts with rod ON-bipolar cells by aligning the presynaptic voltage-gated Ca2+ channel directing glutamate release (CaV1.4) with postsynaptic mGluR6 receptors. We show this coordination requires an extracellular protein, α2δ4, which complexes with CaV1.4 and the rod synaptogenic mediator, ELFN1, for trans-synaptic alignment with mGluR6. Eliminating α2δ4 in mice abolishes rod synaptogenesis and synaptic transmission to rod ON-bipolar cells, and disrupts postsynaptic mGluR6 clustering. We further find that in rods, α2δ4 is crucial for organizing synaptic ribbons and setting CaV1.4 voltage sensitivity. In cones, α2δ4 is essential for CaV1.4 function, but is not required for ribbon organization, synaptogenesis, or synaptic transmission. These findings offer insights into retinal pathologies associated with α2δ4 dysfunction.
Keywords: calcium channels; cell adhesion; circuit formation; retina; ribbon synapse; synaptic transmission; synaptogenesis; trans-synaptic interactions; vision; wiring.
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