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The Caenorhabditis elegans voltage-gated calcium channel subunits UNC-2 and UNC-36 and the calcium-dependent kinase UNC-43/CaMKII regulate neuromuscular junction morphology


Abstract Background The conserved Caenorhabditis elegans proteins NID-1/nidogen and PTP-3A/LAR-RPTP function to efficiently localize the presynaptic scaffold protein SYD-2/α-liprin at active zones. Loss of function in these molecules results in defects in the size, morphology and spacing of neuromuscular junctions. Results Here we show that the Cav2-like voltage-gated calcium channel (VGCC) proteins, UNC-2 and UNC-36, and the calmodulin kinase II (CaMKII), UNC-43, function to regulate the size and morphology of presynaptic domains in C. elegans. Loss of function in unc-2, unc-36 or unc-43 resulted in slightly larger GABAergic neuromuscular junctions (NMJs), but could suppress the synaptic morphology defects found in nid-1/nidogen or ptp-3/LAR mutants. A gain-of-function mutation in unc-43 caused defects similar to those found in nid-1 mutants. Mutations in egl-19, Cav1-like, or cca-1, Cav3-like, α1 subunits, or the second α2/δ subunit, tag-180, did not suppress nid-1, suggesting a specific interaction between unc-2 and the synaptic extracellular matrix (ECM) component nidogen. Using a synaptic vesicle marker in time-lapse microscopy studies, we observed GABAergic motor neurons adding NMJ-like structures during late larval development. The synaptic bouton addition appeared to form in at least two ways: (1) de novo formation, where a cluster of vesicles appeared to coalesce, or (2) when a single punctum became enlarged and then divided to form two discrete fluorescent puncta. In comparison to wild type animals, we found unc-2 mutants exhibited reduced NMJ dynamics, with fewer observed divisions during a similar stage of development. Conclusions We identified UNC-2/UNC-36 VGCCs and UNC-43/CaMKII as regulators of C. elegans synaptogenesis. UNC-2 has a modest role in synapse formation, but a broader role in regulating dynamic changes in the size and morphology of synapses that occur during organismal development. During the late 4th larval stage (L4), wild type animals exhibit synaptic morphologies that are similar to those found in animals lacking NID-1/PTP-3 adhesion, as well as those with constitutive activation of UNC-43. Genetic evidence indicates that the VGCCs and the NID-1/PTP-3 adhesion complex provide opposing functions in synaptic development, suggesting that modulation of synaptic adhesion may underlie synapse development in C. elegans.

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