An autoinhibitory clamp of actin assembly constrains and directs synaptic endocytosis

Elife. 2021 Jul 29;10:e69597. doi: 10.7554/eLife.69597.


Synaptic membrane-remodeling events such as endocytosis require force-generating actin assembly. The endocytic machinery that regulates these actin and membrane dynamics localizes at high concentrations to large areas of the presynaptic membrane, but actin assembly and productive endocytosis are far more restricted in space and time. Here we describe a mechanism whereby autoinhibition clamps the presynaptic endocytic machinery to limit actin assembly to discrete functional events. We found that collective interactions between the Drosophila endocytic proteins Nwk/FCHSD2, Dap160/intersectin, and WASp relieve Nwk autoinhibition and promote robust membrane-coupled actin assembly in vitro. Using automated particle tracking to quantify synaptic actin dynamics in vivo, we discovered that Nwk-Dap160 interactions constrain spurious assembly of WASp-dependent actin structures. These interactions also promote synaptic endocytosis, suggesting that autoinhibition both clamps and primes the synaptic endocytic machinery, thereby constraining actin assembly to drive productive membrane remodeling in response to physiological cues.

Keywords: D. melanogaster; actin; cell biology; endocytosis; neuroscience; synapse.

Plain Language Summary

Neurons constantly talk to each other by sending chemical signals across the tiny gap, or ‘synapse’, that separates two cells. While inside the emitting cell, these molecules are safely packaged into small, membrane-bound vessels. Upon the right signal, the vesicles fuse with the external membrane of the neuron and spill their contents outside, for the receiving cell to take up and decode. The emitting cell must then replenish its vesicle supply at the synapse through a recycling mechanism known as endocytosis. To do so, it uses dynamically assembling rod-like ‘actin’ filaments, which work in concert with many other proteins to pull in patches of membrane as new vesicles. The proteins that control endocytosis and actin assembly abound at neuronal synapses, and, when mutated, are linked to many neurological diseases. Unlike other cell types, neurons appear to ‘pre-deploy’ these actin-assembly proteins to synaptic membranes, but to keep them inactive under normal conditions. How neurons control the way this machinery is recruited and activated remains unknown. To investigate this question, Del Signore et al. conducted two sets of studies. First, they exposed actin to several different purified proteins in initial ‘test tube’ experiments. This revealed that, depending on the conditions, a group of endocytosis proteins could prevent or promote actin assembly: assembly occurred only if the proteins were associated with membranes. Next, Del Signore et al. mutated these proteins in fruit fly larvae, and performed live cell microscopy to determine their impact on actin assembly and endocytosis. Consistent with the test tube findings, endocytosis mutants had more actin assembly overall, implying that the proteins were required to prevent random actin assembly. However, the same mutants had reduced levels of endocytosis, suggesting that the proteins were also necessary for productive actin assembly. Together, these experiments suggest that, much like a mousetrap holds itself poised ready to spring, some endocytic proteins play a dual role to restrain actin assembly when and where it is not needed, and to promote it at sites of endocytosis. These results shed new light on how neurons might build and maintain effective, working synapses. Del Signore et al. hope that this knowledge may help to better understand and combat neurological diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, which are linked to impaired membrane traffic and cell signalling.

Publication types

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