Differential regulation of GABAA receptor and gephyrin postsynaptic clustering in immature hippocampal neuronal cultures



Gephyrin is a postsynaptic scaffolding protein involved in clustering of glycine- and GABAA receptors at inhibitory synapses. The role of gephyrin in GABAergic synapses, the nature of its interactions with GABAA receptors, and the mechanisms of targeting to GABAergic synapses are largely unknown. To gain further insights into these questions, the formation of GABAA receptor and gephyrin clusters and their distribution relative to presynaptic terminals were investigated in immature cultures of embryonic hippocampal neurons using triple immunofluorescence staining. GABAA receptor clusters, labeled for the α2 subunit, formed independently of gephyrin clusters, and were distributed on neurites at constant densities, either extrasynaptically or, to a lesser extent, postsynaptically, apposed to synapsin-I-positive axon terminals. In contrast, gephyrin clusters were always associated with GABAA receptors and were preferentially localized postsynaptically. Their density increased linearly with the extent of innervation, which developed rapidly during the first week in vitro. These results suggested that GABAA receptor clustering is mediated by cell-autonomous mechanisms independent of synapse formation. Their association with gephyrin is dynamically regulated and may contribute to stabilization at postsynaptic sites. Labeling for vesicular glutamate transporters revealed that most synapses in these immature cultures were presumably glutamatergic, implying that postsynaptic GABAA receptor and gephyrin clusters initially were located in “mismatched” synapses. However, clusters appropriately localized in GABAergic synapses were distinctly larger and more intensely stained. Altogether, these results demonstrate that the targeting of GABAA receptor and gephyrin clusters to GABAergic synapses occurs secondarily and is regulated by presynaptic factors that are not essential for clustering. J. Comp. Neurol. 484:344–355, 2005. © 2005 Wiley-Liss, Inc.