Change in the shape and density of dendritic spines caused by overexpression of acidic calponin in cultured hippocampal neurons



Dendritic spines are morphing structures believed to provide a cellular substrate for synaptic plasticity. It has been suggested that the actin cytoskeleton is the target of molecular mechanisms regulating spine morphology. Here we hypothesized that acidic calponin, an actin-binding protein, is one of the key regulators of actin filaments during spine plasticity. Our data showed that the overexpression of acidic calponin-GFP (green fluorescent protein) in primary cultures of rat hippocampal neurons causes an elongation of spines and an increase of their density as compared with those of GFP-expressing neurons. These effects required the actin-binding domains of acidic calponin. The close apposition of the presynatic marker synaptophysin to these long spines and the presence of specific postsynaptic markers actin, PSD-95, NR1, and GluR1 suggested the existence of functional excitatory synaptic contacts. Indeed, electrophysiological data showed that the postsynaptic overexpression of acidic calponin enhanced the frequency of miniature excitatory postsynaptic currents as compared with that of GFP-expressing neurons, but did not affect their properties such as amplitude, rise time, and half width. Studies in heterologous cells revealed that acidic calponin reorganized the actin filaments and stabilized them. Taken together, these findings show that acidic calponin regulates dendritic spine morphology and density, likely via regulation of the actin cytoskeleton reorganization and dynamic. Furthermore, the acidic calponin-induced spines are able to establish functional glutamatergic synapses. Such data suggest that acidic calponin is a key factor in the regulation of spine plasticity and synaptic activity. © 2005 Wiley-Liss, Inc.