MET, a pleiotropic receptor tyrosine kinase implicated in autism risk, influences multiple neurodevelopmental processes. There is a knowledge gap, however, in the molecular mechanism through which MET mediates developmental events related to disorder risk. In the neocortex, MET is expressed transiently during periods of peak dendritic outgrowth and synaptogenesis, with expression enriched at developing synapses, consistent with demonstrated roles in dendritic morphogenesis, modulation of spine volume and excitatory synapse development. In a recent co-immunoprecipitation (Co-IP)/mass spectrometry screen, β-catenin was identified as part of the MET interactome in developing neocortical synaptosomes. Here, we investigated the influence of the MET/β-catenin complex in mouse neocortical synaptogenesis. Western blot analysis confirms that MET and β-catenin co-immunoprecipitate, but N-cadherin is not associated with the MET complex. Following stimulation with hepatocyte growth factor (HGF), β-catenin is phosphorylated at tyrosine142 (Y142) and dissociates from MET, accompanied by an increase in β-catenin/N-cadherin and MET/synapsin 1 protein complexes. In neocortical neurons in vitro, proximity ligation assays confirmed close proximity of these proteins. Moreover, in neurons transfected with synaptophysin-GFP, HGF stimulation increases the density of synaptophysin/bassoon (a presynaptic marker) and synaptophysin/PSD95 (a postsynaptic marker) clusters. Mutation of β-catenin at Y142 disrupts the dissociation of the MET/β-catenin complex and prevents the increase in clusters in response to HGF. The data demonstrate a new mechanism for modulation of synapse formation, whereby MET activation induces an alignment of pre- and postsynaptic elements that are necessary for assembly and formation of functional synapses by subsets of neocortical neurons that express MET/β-catenin complex.
Significance Statement: The gene encoding the MET receptor tyrosine kinase is associated with autism spectrum disorder, and influences typical and atypical synapse development and cortical circuit function. The present studies focus on determining potential molecular mechanisms through which the receptor functions in neocortical neurons during synaptogenesis. The findings show that the MET receptor interacts functionally with other proteins also implicated in promoting new synapse assembly, which is reduced upon disruption of the interactions. Thus, in some instances of autism spectrum disorder, disturbances of these molecular interactions may relate to the pathophysiology of cortical circuit development.
Authors report no conflict of interest.
National Institute of Mental Health [MH067842]; The Simms/Mann Chair in Developmental Neurogenetics.