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1.  Comparing development of synaptic proteins in rat visual, somatosensory, and frontal cortex 
Two theories have influenced our understanding of cortical development: the integrated network theory, where synaptic development is coordinated across areas; and the cascade theory, where the cortex develops in a wave-like manner from sensory to non-sensory areas. These different views on cortical development raise challenges for current studies aimed at comparing detailed maturation of the connectome among cortical areas. We have taken a different approach to compare synaptic development in rat visual, somatosensory, and frontal cortex by measuring expression of pre-synaptic (synapsin and synaptophysin) proteins that regulate vesicle cycling, and post-synaptic density (PSD-95 and Gephyrin) proteins that anchor excitatory or inhibitory (E-I) receptors. We also compared development of the balances between the pairs of pre- or post-synaptic proteins, and the overall pre- to post-synaptic balance, to address functional maturation and emergence of the E-I balance. We found that development of the individual proteins and the post-synaptic index overlapped among the three cortical areas, but the pre-synaptic index matured later in frontal cortex. Finally, we applied a neuroinformatics approach using principal component analysis and found that three components captured development of the synaptic proteins. The first component accounted for 64% of the variance in protein expression and reflected total protein expression, which overlapped among the three cortical areas. The second component was gephyrin and the E-I balance, it emerged as sequential waves starting in somatosensory, then frontal, and finally visual cortex. The third component was the balance between pre- and post-synaptic proteins, and this followed a different developmental trajectory in somatosensory cortex. Together, these results give the most support to an integrated network of synaptic development, but also highlight more complex patterns of development that vary in timing and end point among the cortical areas.
PMCID: PMC3664769  PMID: 23754984
synapsin; synaptophysin; PSD-95; gephyrin; critical period; integrated network; E-I balance; cortical development
2.  Cortical development of AMPA receptor trafficking proteins 
AMPA-receptor trafficking plays a central role in excitatory plasticity, especially during development. Changes in the number of AMPA receptors and time spent at the synaptic surface are important factors of plasticity that directly affect long-term potentiation (LTP), long-term depression (LTD), synaptic scaling, and the excitatory-inhibitory (E/I) balance in the developing cortex. Experience-dependent changes in synaptic strength in visual cortex (V1) use a molecularly distinct AMPA trafficking pathway that includes the GluA2 subunit. We studied developmental changes in AMPA receptor trafficking proteins by quantifying expression of GluA2, pGluA2 (GluA2serine880), GRIP1, and PICK1 in rat visual and frontal cortex. We used Western Blot analysis of synaptoneurosome preparations of rat visual and frontal cortex from animals ranging in age from P0 to P105. GluA2 and pGluA2 followed different developmental trajectories in visual and frontal cortex, with a brief period of over expression in frontal cortex. The over expression of GluA2 and pGluA2 in immature frontal cortex raises the possibility that there may be a period of GluA2-dependent vulnerability in frontal cortex that is not found in V1. In contrast, GRIP1 and PICK1 had the same developmental trajectories and were expressed very early in development of both cortical areas. This suggests that the AMPA-interacting proteins are available to begin trafficking receptors as soon as GluA2-containing receptors are expressed. Finally, we used all four proteins to analyze the surface-to-internalization balance and found that this balance was roughly equal across both cortical regions, and throughout development. Our finding of an exquisite surface-to-internalization balance highlights that these AMPA receptor trafficking proteins function as a tightly controlled system in the developing cortex.
PMCID: PMC3353264  PMID: 22623912
AMPA receptor; trafficking; critical period; GRIP; PICK1; visual cortex; frontal cortex; synaptic plasticity
3.  Dramatic Loss of Ube3A Expression during Aging of the Mammalian Cortex 
Neurobiological studies of aging are beginning to link functional changes with a loss of experience-dependent plasticity. In the visual system, age-related functional changes include decreases in visual acuity, orientation selectivity, motion perception, and ocular dominance plasticity. A recent paper has shown that Ube3A, an E3 ubiquitin ligase that is absent in Angelman's syndrome, is required for experience-dependent plasticity during development of the visual cortex. Knocking out Ube3A during development leads to rigidity of ocular dominance plasticity that is strikingly similar to the reduced plasticity seen in older animals. Furthermore, ubiquitin ligases have been linked with age-related neurodegenerative disorders and longevity. Ubiquitin ligases selectively mark proteins for degradation, and a balance between synaptic proteins and their degradation is important for neural transmission and plasticity. This led us to ask whether normal aging is characterized by a loss of Ube3A in the cortex. We used Western blot analysis in order to quantify Ube3A expression across the life span of humans, macaque monkeys, and cats. We found that Ube3A expression declines across the lifespan in human, monkey, and cat cortex. The losses were substantial (50–80%) in all areas studied which includes V1, V3, V4, frontal, and auditory cortex. In addition, when compared with other synaptic proteins there was a selective loss of Ube3A in human cortex. The progressive loss of Ube3A expression during cortical aging is an important new finding. Furthermore, the selective loss of Ube3A in human cortex highlights a specific vulnerability in human brain aging that may signify a dramatic shift in cortical function and plasticity.
PMCID: PMC2887038  PMID: 20559465
Ube3A; aging; visual cortex; plasticity; E6AP
4.  Developmental Changes in GABAergic Mechanisms in Human Visual Cortex Across the Lifespan 
Functional maturation of visual cortex is linked with dynamic changes in synaptic expression of GABAergic mechanisms. These include setting the excitation–inhibition balance required for experience-dependent plasticity, as well as, intracortical inhibition underlying development and aging of receptive field properties. Animal studies have shown that there is developmental regulation of GABAergic mechanisms in visual cortex. In this study, we show for the first time how these mechanisms develop in the human visual cortex across the lifespan. We used Western blot analysis of postmortem tissue from human primary visual cortex (n = 30, range: 20 days to 80 years) to quantify expression of eight pre- and post-synaptic GABAergic markers. We quantified the inhibitory modulating cannabinoid receptor (CB1), GABA vesicular transporter (VGAT), GABA synthesizing enzymes (GAD65/GAD67), GABAA receptor anchoring protein (Gephyrin), and GABAA receptor subunits (GABAAα1, GABAAα2, GABAAα3). We found a complex pattern of different developmental trajectories, many of which were prolonged and continued well into the teen, young adult, and even older adult years. These included a monotonic increase or decrease (GABAAα1, GABAAα2), a biphasic increase then decrease (GAD65, Gephyrin), or multiple increases and decreases (VGAT, CB1) across the lifespan. Comparing the balances between the pre- and post-synaptic markers we found three main transition stages (early childhood, early teen years, aging) when there were rapid switches in the composition of the GABAergic signaling system, indicating that functioning of the GABAergic system must change as the visual cortex develops and ages. Furthermore, these results provide key information for translating therapies developed in animal models into effective treatments for amblyopia in humans.
PMCID: PMC2893712  PMID: 20592950
GABA; development; human; aging; visual cortex; inhibition; plasticity
5.  Experience-Dependent Changes in Excitatory and Inhibitory Receptor Subunit Expression in Visual Cortex 
Experience-dependent development of visual cortex depends on the balance between excitatory and inhibitory activity. This activity is regulated by key excitatory (NMDA, AMPA) and inhibitory (GABAA) receptors. The composition of these receptors changes developmentally, affecting the excitatory–inhibitory (E/I) balance and synaptic plasticity. Until now, it has been unclear how abnormal visual experience affects this balance. To examine this question, we measured developmental changes in excitatory and inhibitory receptor subunits in visual cortex following normal visual experience and monocular deprivation. We used Western blot analysis to quantify expression of excitatory (NR1, NR2A, NR2B, GluR2) and inhibitory (GABAAα1, GABAAα3) receptor subunits. Monocular deprivation promoted a complex pattern of changes in receptor subunit expression that varied with age and was most severe in the region of visual cortex representing the central visual field. To characterize the multidimensional pattern of experience-dependent change in these synaptic mechanisms, we applied a neuroinformatics approach using principal component analysis. We found that monocular deprivation (i) causes a large portion of the normal developmental trajectory to be bypassed, (ii) shifts the E/I balance in favor of more inhibition, and (iii) accelerates the maturation of receptor subunits. Taken together, these results show that monocularly deprived animals have an abnormal balance of the synaptic machinery needed for functional maturation of cortical circuits and for developmental plasticity. This raises the possibility that interventions intended to treat amblyopia may need to address multiple synaptic mechanisms to produce optimal recovery.
PMCID: PMC3059668  PMID: 21423524
plasticity; development; monocular deprivation; excitatory–inhibitory balance; amblyopia; NMDA; AMPA; GABAA

Results 1-5 (5)