Regulation of hippocampal mossy fiber-CA3 synapse function by a Bcl11b/C1ql2/Nrxn3(25b+) pathway

Elife. 2024 Feb 15:12:RP89854. doi: 10.7554/eLife.89854.


The transcription factor Bcl11b has been linked to neurodevelopmental and neuropsychiatric disorders associated with synaptic dysfunction. Bcl11b is highly expressed in dentate gyrus granule neurons and is required for the structural and functional integrity of mossy fiber-CA3 synapses. The underlying molecular mechanisms, however, remained unclear. We show in mice that the synaptic organizer molecule C1ql2 is a direct functional target of Bcl11b that regulates synaptic vesicle recruitment and long-term potentiation at mossy fiber-CA3 synapses in vivo and in vitro. Furthermore, we demonstrate C1ql2 to exert its functions through direct interaction with a specific splice variant of neurexin-3, Nrxn3(25b+). Interruption of C1ql2-Nrxn3(25b+) interaction by expression of a non-binding C1ql2 mutant or by deletion of Nrxn3 in the dentate gyrus granule neurons recapitulates major parts of the Bcl11b as well as C1ql2 mutant phenotype. Together, this study identifies a novel C1ql2-Nrxn3(25b+)-dependent signaling pathway through which Bcl11b controls mossy fiber-CA3 synapse function. Thus, our findings contribute to the mechanistic understanding of neurodevelopmental disorders accompanied by synaptic dysfunction.

Keywords: Bcl11b/Ctip2; C1ql2; Neurexin; mossy fiber-CA3 synapse; mouse; neurodevelopmental disorders; neuroscience; transcription factors.

Plain language summary

The human brain contains billions of neurons working together to process the vast array of information we receive from our environment. These neurons communicate at junctions known as synapses, where chemical packages called vesicles released from one neuron stimulate a response in another. This synaptic communication is crucial for our ability to think, learn and remember. However, this activity depends on a complex interplay of proteins, whose balance and location within the neuron are tightly controlled. Any disruption to this delicate equilibrium can cause significant problems, including neurodevelopmental and neuropsychiatric disorders, such as schizophrenia and intellectual disability. One key regulator of activity at the synapse is a protein called Bcl11b, which has been linked to conditions affected by synaptic dysfunction. It plays a critical role in maintaining specific junctions known as mossy fibre synapses, which are important for learning and memory. One of the genes regulated by Bcl11b is C1ql2, which encodes for a synaptic protein. However, it is unclear what molecular mechanisms Bcl11b uses to carry out this role. To address this, Koumoundourou et al. explored the role of C1ql2 in mossy fibre synapses of adult mice. Experiments to manipulate the production of C1ql2 independently of Bcl11b revealed that C1ql2 is vital for recruiting vesicles to the synapse and strengthening synaptic connections between neurons. Further investigation showed that C1ql2’s role in this process relies on interacting with another synaptic protein called neurexin-3. Disrupting this interaction reduced the amount of C1ql2 at the synapse and, consequently, impaired vesicle recruitment. These findings will help our understanding of how neurodevelopmental and neuropsychiatric disorders develop. Bcl11b, C1ql2 and neurexin-3 have been independently associated with these conditions, and the now-revealed interactions between these proteins offer new insights into the molecular basis of synaptic faults. This research opens the door to further study of how these proteins interact and their roles in brain health and disease.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Mice
  • Mossy Fibers, Hippocampal*
  • Repressor Proteins
  • Synapses*
  • Synaptic Vesicles
  • Transcription Factors
  • Tumor Suppressor Proteins


  • Transcription Factors
  • Tumor Suppressor Proteins
  • Bcl11b protein, mouse
  • Repressor Proteins