The molecular signals that regulate activity-dependent synapse refinement in the brain

Curr Opin Neurobiol. 2023 Apr:79:102692. doi: 10.1016/j.conb.2023.102692. Epub 2023 Feb 17.


The formation of appropriate synaptic connections is critical for the proper functioning of the brain. Early in development, neurons form a surplus of immature synapses. To establish efficient, functional neural networks, neurons selectively stabilize active synapses and eliminate less active ones. This process is known as activity-dependent synapse refinement. Defects in this process have been implicated in neuropsychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia and autism. Here we review the manner and mechanisms by which synapse elimination is regulated through activity-dependent competition. We propose a theoretical framework for the molecular mechanisms of synapse refinement, in which three types of signals regulate the refinement. We then describe the identity of these signals and discuss how multiple molecular signals interact to achieve appropriate synapse refinement in the brain.

Keywords: Elimination signal; Neural activity; Punishment signal; Stabilization signal; Synapse refinement; Synaptic competition.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Brain
  • Neurons* / physiology
  • Synapses* / physiology