Motoneuron Wnts regulate neuromuscular junction development

Elife. 2018 Aug 16;7:e34625. doi: 10.7554/eLife.34625.


The neuromuscular junction (NMJ) is a synapse between motoneurons and skeletal muscles to control motor behavior. Unlike extensively investigated postsynaptic differentiation, less is known about mechanisms of presynaptic assembly. Genetic evidence of Wnt in mammalian NMJ development was missing due to the existence of multiple Wnts and their receptors. We show when Wnt secretion is abolished from motoneurons by mutating the Wnt ligand secretion mediator (Wls) gene, mutant mice showed muscle weakness and neurotransmission impairment. NMJs were unstable with reduced synaptic junctional folds and fragmented AChR clusters. Nerve terminals were swollen; synaptic vesicles were fewer and mislocated. The presynaptic deficits occurred earlier than postsynaptic deficits. Intriguingly, these phenotypes were not observed when deleting Wls in muscles or Schwann cells. We identified Wnt7A and Wnt7B as major Wnts for nerve terminal development in rescue experiments. These observations demonstrate a necessary role of motoneuron Wnts in NMJ development, in particular presynaptic differentiation.

Keywords: Wnt; mouse; neuromuscular junction; neuroscience; presynapse; synapse.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Differentiation / genetics
  • Mice
  • Motor Neurons / metabolism*
  • Motor Neurons / physiology
  • Muscle, Skeletal / growth & development
  • Mutation
  • Neuromuscular Junction / genetics
  • Neuromuscular Junction / growth & development*
  • Neurons, Efferent / metabolism
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins / genetics*
  • Receptors, Cholinergic / genetics
  • Schwann Cells / cytology
  • Schwann Cells / metabolism
  • Synapses / genetics
  • Wnt Proteins / genetics*
  • Wnt Signaling Pathway


  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins
  • Receptors, Cholinergic
  • Wnt Proteins
  • Wnt7a protein, mouse
  • Wnt7b protein, mouse