Transcriptional control of parallel-acting pathways that remove specific presynaptic proteins in remodeling neurons

J Neurosci. 2021 May 27;41(27):5849-5866. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0893-20.2021. Online ahead of print.


Synapses are actively dismantled to mediate circuit refinement, but the developmental pathways that regulate synaptic disassembly are largely unknown. We have previously shown that the epithelial sodium channel ENaC/UNC-8 triggers an activity-dependent mechanism that drives the removal of presynaptic proteins liprin-α/SYD-2, Synaptobrevin/SNB-1, RAB-3 and Endophilin/UNC-57 in remodeling GABAergic neurons in C. elegans (Miller-Fleming et al., 2016). Here, we report that the conserved transcription factor Iroquois/IRX-1 regulates UNC-8 expression as well as an additional pathway, independent of UNC-8, that functions in parallel to dismantle functional presynaptic terminals. We show that the additional IRX-1-regulated pathway is selectively required for the removal of the presynaptic proteins, Munc13/UNC-13 and ELKS, which normally mediate synaptic vesicle fusion and neurotransmitter release. Our findings are notable because they highlight the key role of transcriptional regulation in synapse elimination during development and reveal parallel-acting pathways that coordinate synaptic disassembly by removing specific active zone proteins.SIGNIFICANT STATEMENT:Synaptic pruning is a conserved feature of developing neural circuits but the mechanisms that dismantle the presynaptic apparatus are largely unknown. We have determined that synaptic disassembly is orchestrated by parallel-acting mechanisms that target distinct components of the active zone. Thus, our finding suggests that synaptic disassembly is not accomplished by en masse destruction but depends on mechanisms that dismantle the structure in an organized process.