Experience-dependent plasticity and modulation of growth regulatory molecules at central synapses

Simona Foscarin, Danilo Ponchione, Ermira Pajaj, Ketty Leto, Maciej Gawlak, Grzegorz M Wilczynski, Ferdinando Rossi, Daniela Carulli
PloS One 2011, 6 (1): e16666
Structural remodeling or repair of neural circuits depends on the balance between intrinsic neuronal properties and regulatory cues present in the surrounding microenvironment. These processes are also influenced by experience, but it is still unclear how external stimuli modulate growth-regulatory mechanisms in the central nervous system. We asked whether environmental stimulation promotes neuronal plasticity by modifying the expression of growth-inhibitory molecules, specifically those of the extracellular matrix. We examined the effects of an enriched environment on neuritic remodeling and modulation of perineuronal nets in the deep cerebellar nuclei of adult mice. Perineuronal nets are meshworks of extracellular matrix that enwrap the neuronal perikaryon and restrict plasticity in the adult CNS. We found that exposure to an enriched environment induces significant morphological changes of Purkinje and precerebellar axon terminals in the cerebellar nuclei, accompanied by a conspicuous reduction of perineuronal nets. In the animals reared in an enriched environment, cerebellar nuclear neurons show decreased expression of mRNAs coding for key matrix components (as shown by real time PCR experiments), and enhanced activity of matrix degrading enzymes (matrix metalloproteinases 2 and 9), which was assessed by in situ zymography. Accordingly, we found that in mutant mice lacking a crucial perineuronal net component, cartilage link protein 1, perineuronal nets around cerebellar neurons are disrupted and plasticity of Purkinje cell terminal is enhanced. Moreover, all the effects of environmental stimulation are amplified if the afferent Purkinje axons are endowed with enhanced intrinsic growth capabilities, induced by overexpression of GAP-43. Our observations show that the maintenance and growth-inhibitory function of perineuronal nets are regulated by a dynamic interplay between pre- and postsynaptic neurons. External stimuli act on this interaction and shift the balance between synthesis and removal of matrix components in order to facilitate neuritic growth by locally dampening the activity of inhibitory cues.

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