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Glutamate induces the elongation of early dendritic protrusions via mGluRs in wild type mice, but not in fragile X mice.


Fragile X syndrome (FXS), the most common inherited from of autism and mental impairment, is caused by transcriptional silencing of the Fmr1 gene, resulting in the loss of the RNA-binding protein FMRP. Dendritic spines of cortical pyramidal neurons in affected individuals are abnormally immature and in Fmr1 knockout (KO) mice they are also abnormally unstable. This could result in defects in synaptogenesis, because spine dynamics are critical for synapse formation. We have previously shown that the earliest dendritic protrusions, which are highly dynamic and might serve an exploratory role to reach out for axons, elongate in response to glutamate. Here, we tested the hypothesis that this process is mediated by metabotropic glutamate receptors (mGluRs) and that it is defective in Fmr1 KO mice. Using time-lapse imaging with two-photon microscopy in acute brain slices from early postnatal mice, we find that early dendritic protrusions in layer 2/3 neurons become longer in response to application of glutamate or DHPG, a Group 1 mGluR agonist. Blockade of mGluR5 signaling, which reverses some adult phenotypes of KO mice, prevented the glutamate-mediated elongation of early protrusions. In contrast, dendritic protrusions from KO mice failed to respond to glutamate. Thus, absence of FMRP may impair the ability of cortical pyramidal neurons to respond to glutamate released from nearby pre-synaptic terminals, which may be a critical step to initiate synaptogenesis and stabilize spines.

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