Ubiquitination and its reverse process, deubiquitination, play essential roles in neural development, function, and plasticity. A20, a ubiquitin editing enzyme that can remove K63-polyubiquitin chains from substrates and attach K48-polyubiquitin chains to them, is a critical component in the NF-κB signaling pathway in the immune system. This dual ubiquitin enzyme is also present in mammalian brains, but its potential role in neurons and synapses is unknown. We show that A20 in pyramidal neurons potently regulates dendritic arborization, spine morphogenesis, and synaptic transmission through an NF-κB-dependent mechanism. In cultured hippocampal neurons, overexpression of A20 reduced dendritic complexity and spine size and density, whereas A20 knockdown increased spine size and density, as well as clustering of the postsynaptic scaffold PSD-95 and glutamate receptor subunit GluA1. A20 effects in vitro were recapitulated in vivo where increasing or decreasing A20 expression in mouse brains reduced and enhanced spine density, respectively. Functionally, A20 knockdown significantly increased the amplitude, but not frequency of miniature excitatory postsynaptic currents, suggesting a role in postsynaptic efficacy. A20 negatively regulated NF-κB activation in neurons and A20 mutants deficient in either the deubiquitinase or the ubiquitin ligase activity failed to suppress NF-κB activation or reduce spine morphogenesis. Finally, selective inhibition of NF-κB abolished A20 knockdown-elicited spine formation, suggesting that A20 exerts its modulation on synapses through NF-κB signaling. Together, our study reveals a previously unknown role for A20, the only known ubiquitin editing enzyme with both deubiquitinase and ubiquitin ligase activity, in dendritic arborization, spine remodeling, and synaptic plasticity.
Keywords: Dendritic spines; Deubiquitinase; NF-κB; Synapse remodeling; Ubiquitin ligase; Ubiquitination.
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