Wnt5a modulates dendritic spine dynamics through the regulation of Cofilin via small Rho GTPase activity in hippocampal neurons

J Neurochem. 2021 Aug;158(3):673-693. doi: 10.1111/jnc.15448. Epub 2021 Jul 7.


Dendritic spines are small, actin-rich protrusions that act as the receiving sites of most excitatory inputs in the central nervous system. The remodeling of the synapse architecture is mediated by actin cytoskeleton dynamics, a process precisely regulated by the small Rho GTPase family. Wnt ligands exert their presynaptic and postsynaptic effects during formation and consolidation of the synaptic structure. Specifically, Wnt5a has been identified as an indispensable synaptogenic factor for the regulation and organization of the postsynaptic side; however, the molecular mechanisms through which Wnt5a induces morphological changes resulting from actin cytoskeleton dynamics within dendritic spines remain unclear. In this work, we employ primary rat hippocampal cultures and HT22 murine hippocampal neuronal cell models, molecular and pharmacological tools, and fluorescence microscopy (laser confocal and epifluorescence) to define the Wnt5a-induced molecular signaling involved in postsynaptic remodeling mediated via the regulation of the small Rho GTPase family. We report that Wnt5a differentially regulates the phosphorylation of Cofilin in neurons through both Ras-related C3 botulinum toxin substrate 1 and cell division cycle 42 depending on the subcellular compartment and the extracellular calcium levels. Additionally, we demonstrate that Wnt5a increases the density of dendritic spines and promotes their maturation via Ras-related C3 botulinum toxin substrate 1. Accordingly, we find that Wnt5a requires the combined activation of small Rho GTPases to increase the levels of filamentous actin, thus promoting the stability of actin filaments. Altogether, these results provide evidence for a new mechanism by which Wnt5a may target actin dynamics, thereby regulating the subsequent morphological changes in dendritic spine architecture.

Keywords: Wnt5a; actin cytoskeleton; hippocampal neurons; postsynaptic region; small Rho GTPases.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Actin Depolymerizing Factors / analysis
  • Actin Depolymerizing Factors / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Cell Line
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Dendritic Spines / chemistry
  • Dendritic Spines / metabolism*
  • Enzyme Activation / physiology
  • Female
  • Hippocampus / chemistry
  • Hippocampus / cytology
  • Hippocampus / metabolism*
  • Neurons / chemistry
  • Neurons / metabolism*
  • Pregnancy
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Wnt-5a Protein / analysis
  • Wnt-5a Protein / metabolism*
  • rho GTP-Binding Proteins / analysis
  • rho GTP-Binding Proteins / metabolism*


  • Actin Depolymerizing Factors
  • Wnt-5a Protein
  • Wnt5a protein, rat
  • rho GTP-Binding Proteins