High-Resolution Fluorescence Imaging Combined With Computer Simulations to Quantitate Surface Dynamics and Nanoscale Organization of Neuroligin-1 at Synapses

Front Synaptic Neurosci. 2022 Apr 25:14:835427. doi: 10.3389/fnsyn.2022.835427. eCollection 2022.


Neuroligins (NLGNs) form a family of cell adhesion molecules implicated in synapse development, but the mechanisms that retain these proteins at synapses are still incompletely understood. Recent studies indicate that surface-associated NLGN1 is diffusionally trapped at synapses, where it interacts with quasi-static scaffolding elements of the post-synaptic density. Whereas single molecule tracking reveals rapid diffusion and transient immobilization of NLGN1 at synapses within seconds, fluorescence recovery after photobleaching experiments indicate instead a long-term turnover of NLGN1 at synapse, in the hour time range. To gain insight into the mechanisms supporting NLGN1 anchorage at post-synapses and try to reconcile those experimental paradigms, we quantitatively analyzed here live-cell and super-resolution imaging experiments performed on NLGN1 using a newly released simulator of membrane protein dynamics for fluorescence microscopy, FluoSim. Based on a small set of parameters including diffusion coefficients, binding constants, and photophysical rates, the framework describes fairly well the dynamic behavior of extra-synaptic and synaptic NLGN1 over both short and long time ranges, and provides an estimate of NLGN1 copy numbers in post-synaptic densities at steady-state (around 50 dimers). One striking result is that the residence time of NLGN1 at synapses is much longer than what can be expected from extracellular interactions with pre-synaptic neurexins only, suggesting that NLGN1 is stabilized at synapses through multivalent interactions with intracellular post-synaptic scaffolding proteins.

Keywords: adhesion molecule; computer simulation; fluorescence recovery after photo bleaching; membrane diffusion; single molecule tracking.