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Synapse Elimination in the Central Nervous System

July 15, 2015 to June 30, 2020
Funding Status: 
Completed Project
Funding Agency: 
National Institutes of Health (NIH)
Funding Institute: 
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS)
Grant Number: 
Published Grant: 


Corticospinal neurons, the key conveyers of motor instructions controlling voluntary movement, originate in layer V of the motor cortex and are the major efferent source of descending motor pathways. The overall goal of this proposal is to understand the role of synapse elimination in establishment of corticospinal motor circuits and voluntary movement control. During brain development there is an overabundance of synapse number. However the brain must eliminate excess synapses so that different brain areas can develop specific functions, and avoid stimuli overload. We are just beginning to recognize that improper synapse elimination contributes to neurological disorders such as epilepsy, autism and schizophrenia1-7. However, there are large gaps in our knowledge of the role played by synapse elimination in normal circuit formation and how deficiencies in synapse elimination cause aberrant neural circuit formation and function in vivo. We have recently established unique animal models harboring synapse elimination defects by selectively manipulating genes in specific neural populations during development. Our Preliminary Data implicate regulation of activity-dependent corticospinal synapse elimination by interaction between the transmembrane semaphorin Sema6D and its plexinA1 (PlexA1) receptor. We found that during early postnatal development, CS axons transiently form synapses with spinal neurons. However, these synapses are not eliminated in mice lacking the receptor PlexA1. Importantly, PlexA1 mutants exhibit disrupted skilled movements. Thus we hypothesize that Sema6D-PlexA1-mediated synapse elimination of required for proper patterns of muscle activity during skilled movements. The first aim will determine whether Sema6D-PlexA1 signaling controls synapse elimination via RhoA in an activity-dependent manner. The second aim will examine whether synapses between corticospinal neurons and specific classes of spinal neurons are eliminated by Sema6D-PlexA1 signaling. Finally the third aim will determine whether the Sema6D-PlexA1-mediated CSN synapse elimination is required for co//rrect patterns of muscle activity for skilled movements.


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Lab Director
Laboratory for Neural Connectivity Development in Physiology and Disease
Principal Investigator


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