In neural circuits, individual neurons often make projections onto multiple postsynaptic partners. Here, we investigate molecular mechanisms by which these divergent connections are generated, using dyadic synapses in C. elegans as a model. We report that C. elegans nrx-1/neurexin directs divergent connectivity through differential actions at synapses with partnering neurons and muscles. We show that cholinergic outputs onto neurons are, unexpectedly, located at previously undefined spine-like protrusions from GABAergic dendrites. Both these spine-like features and cholinergic receptor clustering are strikingly disrupted in the absence of nrx-1. Excitatory transmission onto GABAergic neurons, but not neuromuscular transmission, is also disrupted. Our data indicate that NRX-1 located at presynaptic sites specifically directs postsynaptic development in GABAergic neurons. Our findings provide evidence that individual neurons can direct differential patterns of connectivity with their post-synaptic partners through partner-specific utilization of synaptic organizers, offering a novel view into molecular control of divergent connectivity.
Keywords: AChR; C. elegans; dendritic spine; neuroscience; neurotransmission; nicotinic acetylcholine receptor; synapse; synaptic divergence.
© 2018, Philbrook et al.