Neural circuits consist of distinct neuronal cell types connected in specific patterns. The specificity of these connections is achieved in a series of sequential developmental steps that involve the targeting of neurites, the identification of synaptic partners, and the formation of specific types of synapses. Cell-surface proteins play a critical role in each of these steps. The heparan sulfate proteoglycan (HSPG) family of cell-surface proteins is emerging as a key regulator of connectivity. HSPGs are expressed throughout brain development and play important roles in axon guidance, synapse development and synapse function. New insights indicate that neuronal cell types express unique combinations of HSPGs and HS-modifying enzymes. Furthermore, HSPGs interact with cell type-specific binding partners to mediate synapse development. This suggests that cell type-specific repertoires of HSPGs and specific patterns of HS modifications on the cell surface are required for the development of specific synaptic connections. Genome-wide association studies have linked these proteins to neurodevelopmental and neuropsychiatric diseases. Thus, HSPGs play an important role in the development of specific synaptic connectivity patterns important for neural circuit function, and their dysfunction may be involved in the development of brain disorders.
Keywords: cell surface receptor; circuit assembly; connectivity; heparan sulfate proteoglycans; receptor ligand interaction; synapse; synapse development; wiring logic.