A role for synGAP in regulating neuronal apoptosis

Authors

  • Irene Knuesel,

    1. Division of Biology 216-76, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA 91125, USA
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    • *

      Present address: Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Laboratory of Behavioural Neurobiology, Schorenstrasse 16, 8603 Schwerzenbach, Switzerland.

  • Abigail Elliott,

    1. Division of Biology 216-76, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA 91125, USA
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  • Hong-Jung Chen,

    1. Division of Biology 216-76, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA 91125, USA
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    • Present address: AmCyte Inc., 2825 Santa Monica Blvd., Suite 200, Santa Monica, CA 90404–2429, USA.

  • Isabelle M. Mansuy,

    1. Department of Biology, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, ETH Hönggerberg HPM D24, CH-8093, Zurich, Switzerland
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  • Mary B. Kennedy

    1. Division of Biology 216-76, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA 91125, USA
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Dr M. B. Kennedy, as above.
E-mail: kennedym@its.caltech.edu

Abstract

The brain-specific Ras/Rap GTPase-activating protein synGAP is a major component of the postsynaptic density at glutamatergic synapses. It is a target for phosphorylation by Ca2+/calmodulin-dependent protein kinase II, which up-regulates its GTPase-activating activity. Thus, SynGAP may play an important role in coupling N-methyl-d-aspartate-type glutamate receptor activation to signaling pathways downstream of Ras or Rap. Homozygous deletion of synGAP is lethal within the first few days after birth. Therefore, to study the functions of synGAP, we used the cre/loxP recombination system to produce conditional mice mutants in which gradual loss of synGAP begins at ∼ 1 week, and usually becomes maximal by 3 weeks, after birth. The resulting phenotypes fall into two groups. In a small group, the level of synGAP protein is reduced to 20–25% of wild type, and they die at 2–3 weeks of age. In a larger group, the levels remain higher than ∼ 40% of wild type, and they survive and remain healthy. In all mutants, however, an abnormally high number of neurons in the hippocampus and cortex undergo apoptosis, as detected by caspase-3 activation. The effect is cell autonomous, occurring only in neuronal types in which the synGAP gene is eliminated. The level of caspase-3 activation in neurons correlates inversely with the level of synGAP protein measured at 2 and 8 weeks after birth, indicating that neuronal apoptosis is enhanced by reduction of synGAP. These data show that synGAP plays a role in regulation of the onset of apoptotic neuronal death.

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