The ephrin receptor EphB2 regulates the connectivity and activity of enteric neurons

J Biol Chem. 2021 Nov;297(5):101300. doi: 10.1016/j.jbc.2021.101300. Epub 2021 Oct 11.


Highly organized circuits of enteric neurons are required for the regulation of gastrointestinal functions, such as peristaltism or migrating motor complex. However, the factors and molecular mechanisms that regulate the connectivity of enteric neurons and their assembly into functional neuronal networks are largely unknown. A better understanding of the mechanisms by which neurotrophic factors regulate this enteric neuron circuitry is paramount to understanding enteric nervous system (ENS) physiology. EphB2, a receptor tyrosine kinase, is essential for neuronal connectivity and plasticity in the brain, but so far its presence and function in the ENS remain largely unexplored. Here we report that EphB2 is expressed preferentially by enteric neurons relative to glial cells throughout the gut in rats. We show that in primary enteric neurons, activation of EphB2 by its natural ligand ephrinB2 engages ERK signaling pathways. Long-term activation with ephrinB2 decreases EphB2 expression and reduces molecular and functional connectivity in enteric neurons without affecting neuronal density, ganglionic fiber bundles, or overall neuronal morphology. This is highlighted by a loss of neuronal plasticity markers such as synapsin I, PSD95, and synaptophysin, and a decrease of spontaneous miniature synaptic currents. Together, these data identify a critical role for EphB2 in the ENS and reveal a unique EphB2-mediated molecular program of synapse regulation in enteric neurons.

Keywords: EphB2; PSD95; connectivity; enteric glial cells; enteric nervous system; enteric neurons; ephrinB2; synapsin I; synaptic-associated proteins.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Enteric Nervous System / enzymology*
  • Female
  • MAP Kinase Signaling System*
  • Neuronal Plasticity*
  • Neurons / enzymology*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Receptor, EphB2 / metabolism*
  • Synapses / metabolism*


  • Ephb2 protein, rat
  • Receptor, EphB2