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1.  Neuronal Polarity: Demarcation, growth and commitment 
Current opinion in cell biology  2012;24(4):547-553.
In a biological sense, polarity refers to the extremity of the main axis of an organelle, cell, or organism. In neurons, morphological polarity begins with the appearance of the first neurite from the cell body. In multipolar neurons, a second phase of polarization occurs when a single neurite initiates a phase of rapid growth to become the neuron’s axon, while the others later differentiate as dendrites. Finally, during a third phase, axons and dendrites develop an elaborate architecture, acquiring special morphological and molecular features that commit them to their final identities. Mechanistically, each phase must be preceded by spatial restriction of growth activity. We will review recent work on the mechanisms underlying the polarized growth of neurons.
PMCID: PMC3425660  PMID: 22726583
2.  N-cadherin 
Cell Cycle  2012;11(12):2223-2224.
Comment on: Gärtner A, et al. EMBO J 2012; 31:1893-903
PMCID: PMC3383579  PMID: 22659798
N-cadherin; axon; centrosome; cortex; migration; neuronal polarity
3.  Cholesterol Loss Enhances TrkB Signaling in Hippocampal Neurons Aging in Vitro 
Molecular Biology of the Cell  2008;19(5):2101-2112.
Binding of the neurotrophin brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) to the TrkB receptor is a major survival mechanism during embryonic development. In the aged brain, however, BDNF levels are low, suggesting that if TrkB is to play a role in survival at this stage additional mechanisms must have developed. We here show that TrkB activity is most robust in the hippocampus of 21-d-old BDNF-knockout mice as well as in old, wild-type, and BDNF heterozygous animals. Moreover, robust TrkB activity is evident in old but not young hippocampal neurons differentiating in vitro in the absence of any exogenous neurotrophin and also in neurons from BDNF −/− embryos. Age-associated increase in TrkB activity correlated with a mild yet progressive loss of cholesterol. This, in turn, correlated with increased expression of the cholesterol catabolic enzyme cholesterol 24-hydroxylase. Direct cause–effect, cholesterol loss–high TrkB activity was demonstrated by pharmacological means and by manipulating the levels of cholesterol 24-hydroxylase. Because reduced levels of cholesterol and increased expression of choleseterol-24-hydroxylase were also observed in the hippocampus of aged mice, changes in cellular cholesterol content may be used to modulate receptor activity strength in vivo, autonomously or as a way to complement the natural decay of neurotrophin production.
PMCID: PMC2366859  PMID: 18287532
4.  Constitutive hippocampal cholesterol loss underlies poor cognition in old rodents 
EMBO Molecular Medicine  2014;6(7):902-917.
Cognitive decline is one of the many characteristics of aging. Reduced long-term potentiation (LTP) and long-term depression (LTD) are thought to be responsible for this decline, although the precise mechanisms underlying LTP and LTD dampening in the old remain unclear. We previously showed that aging is accompanied by the loss of cholesterol from the hippocampus, which leads to PI3K/Akt phosphorylation. Given that Akt de-phosphorylation is required for glutamate receptor internalization and LTD, we hypothesized that the decrease in cholesterol in neuronal membranes may contribute to the deficits in LTD typical of aging. Here, we show that cholesterol loss triggers p-Akt accumulation, which in turn perturbs the normal cellular and molecular responses induced by LTD, such as impaired AMPA receptor internalization and its reduced lateral diffusion. Electrophysiology recordings in brain slices of old mice and in anesthetized elderly rats demonstrate that the reduced hippocampal LTD associated with age can be rescued by cholesterol perfusion. Accordingly, cholesterol replenishment in aging animals improves hippocampal-dependent learning and memory in the water maze test.
PMCID: PMC4119354  PMID: 24878762
aging; cholesterol; learning; LTD; PI3K
5.  Neuronal membrane cholesterol loss enhances amyloid peptide generation 
The Journal of Cell Biology  2004;167(5):953-960.
Recent experimental and clinical retrospective studies support the view that reduction of brain cholesterol protects against Alzheimer's disease (AD). However, genetic and pharmacological evidence indicates that low brain cholesterol leads to neurodegeneration. This apparent contradiction prompted us to analyze the role of neuronal cholesterol in amyloid peptide generation in experimental systems that closely resemble physiological and pathological situations. We show that, in the hippocampus of control human and transgenic mice, only a small pool of endogenous APP and its β-secretase, BACE 1, are found in the same membrane environment. Much higher levels of BACE 1–APP colocalization is found in hippocampal membranes from AD patients or in rodent hippocampal neurons with a moderate reduction of membrane cholesterol. Their increased colocalization is associated with elevated production of amyloid peptide. These results suggest that loss of neuronal membrane cholesterol contributes to excessive amyloidogenesis in AD and pave the way for the identification of the cause of cholesterol loss and for the development of specific therapeutic strategies.
PMCID: PMC2172459  PMID: 15583033
6.  The DCR Protein TTC3 Affects Differentiation and Golgi Compactness in Neurons through Specific Actin-Regulating Pathways 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(4):e93721.
In neuronal cells, actin remodeling plays a well known role in neurite extension but is also deeply involved in the organization of intracellular structures, such as the Golgi apparatus. However, it is still not very clear which mechanisms may regulate actin dynamics at the different sites. In this report we show that high levels of the TTC3 protein, encoded by one of the genes of the Down Syndrome Critical Region (DCR), prevent neurite extension and disrupt Golgi compactness in differentiating primary neurons. These effects largely depend on the capability of TTC3 to promote actin polymerization through signaling pathways involving RhoA, ROCK, CIT-N and PIIa. However, the functional relationships between these molecules differ significantly if considering the TTC3 activity on neurite extension or on Golgi organization. Finally, our results reveal an unexpected stage-dependent requirement for F-actin in Golgi organization at different stages of neuronal differentiation.
PMCID: PMC3973554  PMID: 24695496
7.  RhoA/ROCK regulation of neuritogenesis via profilin IIa–mediated control of actin stability 
The Journal of Cell Biology  2003;162(7):1267-1279.
Neuritogenesis, the first step of neuronal differentiation, takes place as nascent neurites bud from the immediate postmitotic neuronal soma. Little is known about the mechanisms underlying the dramatic morphological changes that characterize this event. Here, we show that RhoA activity plays a decisive role during neuritogenesis of cultured hippocampal neurons by recruiting and activating its specific kinase ROCK, which, in turn, complexes with profilin IIa. We establish that this previously uncharacterized brain-specific actin-binding protein controls neurite sprouting by modifying actin stability, a function regulated by ROCK-mediated phosphorylation. Furthermore, we determine that this novel cascade is switched on or off by physiological stimuli. We propose that RhoA/ROCK/PIIa-mediated regulation of actin stability, shown to be essential for neuritogenesis, may constitute a central mechanism throughout neuronal differentiation.
PMCID: PMC2173969  PMID: 14517206
neuronal differentiation; hippocampal neurons; actin dynamics; Rho GTPases; actin-binding proteins
8.  Correction: Cytoplasmic TERT Associates to RNA Granules in Fully Mature Neurons: Role in the Translational Control of the Cell Cycle Inhibitor p15INK4B 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(10):10.1371/annotation/e2d5d0e4-fb3a-4d53-a2de-99cd8d045d1c.
PMCID: PMC3798663
9.  Prion Protein Accumulation in Lipid Rafts of Mouse Aging Brain 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(9):e74244.
The cellular form of the prion protein (PrPC) is a normal constituent of neuronal cell membranes. The protein misfolding causes rare neurodegenerative disorders known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies or prion diseases. These maladies can be sporadic, genetic or infectious. Sporadic prion diseases are the most common form mainly affecting aging people. In this work, we investigate the biochemical environment in which sporadic prion diseases may develop, focusing our attention on the cell membrane of neurons in the aging brain. It is well established that with aging the ratio between the most abundant lipid components of rafts undergoes a major change: while cholesterol decreases, sphingomyelin content rises. Our results indicate that the aging process modifies the compartmentalization of PrPC. In old mice, this change favors PrPC accumulation in detergent-resistant membranes, particularly in hippocampi. To confirm the relationship between lipid content changes and PrPC translocation into detergent-resistant membranes (DRMs), we looked at PrPC compartmentalization in hippocampi from acid sphingomyelinase (ASM) knockout (KO) mice and synaptosomes enriched in sphingomyelin. In the presence of high sphingomyelin content, we observed a significant increase of PrPC in DRMS. This process is not due to higher levels of total protein and it could, in turn, favor the onset of sporadic prion diseases during aging as it increases the PrP intermolecular contacts into lipid rafts. We observed that lowering sphingomyelin in scrapie-infected cells by using fumonisin B1 led to a 50% decrease in protease-resistant PrP formation. This may suggest an involvement of PrP lipid environment in prion formation and consequently it may play a role in the onset or development of sporadic forms of prion diseases.
PMCID: PMC3769255  PMID: 24040215
10.  Modification of γ-secretase by nitrosative stress links neuronal ageing to sporadic Alzheimer’s disease 
EMBO Molecular Medicine  2012;4(7):660-673.
Inherited familial Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is characterized by small increases in the ratio of Aβ42 versus Aβ40 peptide which is thought to drive the amyloid plaque formation in the brain of these patients. Little is known however whether ageing, the major risk factor for sporadic AD, affects amyloid beta-peptide (Aβ) generation as well. Here we demonstrate that the secretion of Aβ is enhanced in an in vitro model of neuronal ageing, correlating with an increase in γ-secretase complex formation. Moreover we found that peroxynitrite (ONOO−), produced by the reaction of superoxide anion with nitric oxide, promoted the nitrotyrosination of presenilin 1 (PS1), the catalytic subunit of γ-secretase. This was associated with an increased association of the two PS1 fragments, PS1-CTF and PS1-NTF, which constitute the active catalytic centre. Furthermore, we found that peroxynitrite shifted the production of Aβ towards Aβ42 and increased the Aβ42/Aβ40 ratio. Our work identifies nitrosative stress as a potential mechanistic link between ageing and AD.
PMCID: PMC3402223  PMID: 22488900
ageing; Alzheimer’s disease; gamma-secretase; peroxynitrite; presenilin-1
11.  Cytoplasmic TERT Associates to RNA Granules in Fully Mature Neurons: Role in the Translational Control of the Cell Cycle Inhibitor p15INK4B 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(6):e66602.
The main role of Telomerase Reverse Transcriptase (TERT) is to protect telomere length from shortening during cell division. However, recent works have revealed the existence of a pool of TERT associated to mitochondria, where it plays a role in survival. We here show that in fully differentiated neurons the largest pool of cytoplasmic TERT associates to TIA1 positive RNA granules, where it binds the messenger RNA of the cyclin kinase inhibitor p15INK4B. Upon stress, p15INK4B and TERT dissociate and p15INK4B undergoes efficient translation, allowing its pro-survival function. These results unveil another mechanism implicated in the survival of fully differentiated neurons.
PMCID: PMC3688952  PMID: 23825548
12.  Substrate Topography Determines Neuronal Polarization and Growth In Vitro 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(6):e66170.
The establishment of neuronal connectivity depends on the correct initial polarization of the young neurons. In vivo, developing neurons sense a multitude of inputs and a great number of molecules are described that affect their outgrowth. In vitro, many studies have shown the possibility to influence neuronal morphology and growth by biophysical, i.e. topographic, signaling. In this work we have taken this approach one step further and investigated the impact of substrate topography in the very early differentiation stages of developing neurons, i.e. when the cell is still at the round stage and when the first neurite is forming. For this purpose we fabricated micron sized pillar structures with highly reproducible feature sizes, and analyzed neurons on the interface of flat and topographic surfaces. We found that topographic signaling was able to attract the polarization markers of mouse embryonic neurons -N-cadherin, Golgi-centrosome complex and the first bud were oriented towards topographic stimuli. Consecutively, the axon was also preferentially extending along the pillars. These events seemed to occur regardless of pillar dimensions in the range we examined. However, we found differences in neurite length that depended on pillar dimensions. This study is one of the first to describe in detail the very early response of hippocampal neurons to topographic stimuli.
PMCID: PMC3681759  PMID: 23785482
13.  Modification of γ-secretase by nitrosative stress links neuronal ageing to sporadic Alzheimer's disease 
EMBO Molecular Medicine  2012;4(7):660-673.
Inherited familial Alzheimer's disease (AD) is characterized by small increases in the ratio of Aβ42 versus Aβ40 peptide which is thought to drive the amyloid plaque formation in the brain of these patients. Little is known however whether ageing, the major risk factor for sporadic AD, affects amyloid beta-peptide (Aβ) generation as well. Here we demonstrate that the secretion of Aβ is enhanced in an in vitro model of neuronal ageing, correlating with an increase in γ-secretase complex formation. Moreover we found that peroxynitrite (ONOO−), produced by the reaction of superoxide anion with nitric oxide, promoted the nitrotyrosination of presenilin 1 (PS1), the catalytic subunit of γ-secretase. This was associated with an increased association of the two PS1 fragments, PS1-CTF and PS1-NTF, which constitute the active catalytic centre. Furthermore, we found that peroxynitrite shifted the production of Aβ towards Aβ42 and increased the Aβ42/Aβ40 ratio. Our work identifies nitrosative stress as a potential mechanistic link between ageing and AD.
PMCID: PMC3402223  PMID: 22488900
ageing; Alzheimer's disease; gamma-secretase; peroxynitrite; presenilin-1
14.  APM_GUI: analyzing particle movement on the cell membrane and determining confinement 
BMC Biophysics  2012;5:4.
Single-particle tracking is a powerful tool for tracking individual particles with high precision. It provides useful information that allows the study of diffusion properties as well as the dynamics of movement. Changes in particle movement behavior, such as transitions between Brownian motion and temporary confinement, can reveal interesting biophysical interactions. Although useful applications exist to determine the paths of individual particles, only a few software implementations are available to analyze these data, and these implementations are generally not user-friendly and do not have a graphical interface,.
Here, we present APM_GUI (Analyzing Particle Movement), which is a MatLab-implemented application with a Graphical User Interface. This user-friendly application detects confined movement considering non-random confinement when a particle remains in a region longer than a Brownian diffusant would remain. In addition, APM_GUI exports the results, which allows users to analyze this information using software that they are familiar with.
APM_GUI provides an open-source tool that quantifies diffusion coefficients and determines whether trajectories have non-random confinements. It also offers a simple and user-friendly tool that can be used by individuals without programming skills.
PMCID: PMC3337278  PMID: 22348508
15.  Neuronal (Bi)Polarity as a Self-Organized Process Enhanced by Growing Membrane 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(9):e24190.
Early in vitro and recent in vivo studies demonstrated that neuronal polarization occurs by the sequential formation of two oppositely located neurites. This early bipolar phenotype is of crucial relevance in brain organization, determining neuronal migration and brain layering. It is currently considered that the place of formation of the first neurite is dictated by extrinsic cues, through the induction of localized changes in membrane and cytoskeleton dynamics leading to deformation of the cells' curvature followed by the growth of a cylindrical extension (neurite). It is unknown if the appearance of the second neurite at the opposite pole, thus the formation of a bipolar cell axis and capacity to undergo migration, is defined by the growth at the first place, therefore intrinsic, or requires external determinants. We addressed this question by using a mathematical model based on the induction of dynamic changes in one pole of a round cell. The model anticipates that a second area of growth can spontaneously form at the opposite pole. Hence, through mathematical modeling we prove that neuronal bipolar axis of growth can be due to an intrinsic mechanism.
PMCID: PMC3173449  PMID: 21935383
16.  The Collagen Chaperone HSP47 Is a New Interactor of APP that Affects the Levels of Extracellular Beta-Amyloid Peptides 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(7):e22370.
Alzheimer disease (AD) is a neurodegenerative disorder characterized by progressive decline of cognitive function that represents one of the most dramatic medical challenges for the aging population. Aβ peptides, generated by processing of the Amyloid Precursor Protein (APP), are thought to play a central role in the pathogenesis of AD. However, the network of physical and functional interactions that may affect their production and deposition is still poorly understood. The use of a bioinformatic approach based on human/mouse conserved coexpression allowed us to identify a group of genes that display an expression profile strongly correlated with APP. Among the most prominent candidates, we investigated whether the collagen chaperone HSP47 could be functionally correlated with APP. We found that HSP47 accumulates in amyloid deposits of two different mouse models and of some AD patients, is capable to physically interact with APP and can be relocalized by APP overexpression. Notably, we found that it is possible to reduce the levels of secreted Aβ peptides by reducing the expression of HSP47 or by interfering with its activity via chemical inhibitors. Our data unveil HSP47 as a new functional interactor of APP and imply it as a potential target for preventing the formation and/or growth amyloid plaques.
PMCID: PMC3145648  PMID: 21829458
17.  Neuronal polarity: consolidation for growth, growth for consolidation 
The EMBO Journal  2009;28(3):173-174.
PMCID: PMC2637343  PMID: 19194485
18.  Localized recruitment and activation of RhoA underlies dendritic spine morphology in a glutamate receptor–dependent manner 
The Journal of Cell Biology  2006;172(3):453-467.
Actin is the major cytoskeletal source of dendritic spines, which are highly specialized protuberances on the neuronal surface where excitatory synaptic transmission occurs (Harris, K.M., and S.B. Kater. 1994. Annu. Rev. Neurosci. 17:341–371; Yuste, R., and D.W. Tank. 1996. Neuron. 16:701–716). Stimulation of excitatory synapses induces changes in spine shape via localized rearrangements of the actin cytoskeleton (Matus, A. 2000. Science. 290:754–758; Nagerl, U.V., N. Eberhorn, S.B. Cambridge, and T. Bonhoeffer. 2004. Neuron. 44:759–767). However, what remains elusive are the precise molecular mechanisms by which different neurotransmitter receptors forward information to the underlying actin cytoskeleton. We show that in cultured hippocampal neurons as well as in whole brain synaptosomal fractions, RhoA associates with glutamate receptors (GluRs) at the spine plasma membrane. Activation of ionotropic GluRs leads to the detachment of RhoA from these receptors and its recruitment to metabotropic GluRs. Concomitantly, this triggers a local reduction of RhoA activity, which, in turn, inactivates downstream kinase RhoA-specific kinase, resulting in restricted actin instability and dendritic spine collapse. These data provide a direct mechanistic link between neurotransmitter receptor activity and the changes in spine shape that are thought to play a crucial role in synaptic strength.
PMCID: PMC2063654  PMID: 16449195
19.  Rac3-induced Neuritogenesis Requires Binding to Neurabin I 
Molecular Biology of the Cell  2006;17(5):2391-2400.
Rac3, a neuronal GTP-binding protein of the Rho family, induces neuritogenesis in primary neurons. Using yeast two-hybrid analysis, we show that Neurabin I, the neuronal F-actin binding protein, is a direct Rac3-interacting molecule. Biochemical and light microscopy studies indicate that Neurabin I copartitions and colocalizes with Rac3 at the growth cones of neurites, inducing Neurabin I association to the cytoskeleton. Moreover, Neurabin I antisense oligonucleotides abolish Rac3-induced neuritogenesis, which in turn is rescued by exogenous Neurabin I but not by Neurabin I mutant lacking the Rac3-binding domain. These results show that Neurabin I mediates Rac3-induced neuritogenesis, possibly by anchoring Rac3 to growth cone F-actin.
PMCID: PMC1446074  PMID: 16525025
20.  Microtubule-dependent Recruitment of Staufen-Green Fluorescent Protein into Large RNA-containing Granules and Subsequent Dendritic Transport in Living Hippocampal NeuronsV⃞ 
Molecular Biology of the Cell  1999;10(9):2945-2953.
Dendritic mRNA transport and local translation at individual potentiated synapses may represent an elegant way to form synaptic memory. Recently, we characterized Staufen, a double-stranded RNA-binding protein, in rat hippocampal neurons and showed its presence in large RNA-containing granules, which colocalize with microtubules in dendrites. In this paper, we transiently transfect hippocampal neurons with human Staufen-green fluorescent protein (GFP) and find fluorescent granules in the somatodendritic domain of these cells. Human Stau-GFP granules show the same cellular distribution and size and also contain RNA, as already shown for the endogenous Stau particles. In time-lapse videomicroscopy, we show the bidirectional movement of these Staufen-GFP–labeled granules from the cell body into dendrites and vice versa. The average speed of these particles was 6.4 μm/min with a maximum velocity of 24.3 μm/min. Moreover, we demonstrate that the observed assembly into granules and their subsequent dendritic movement is microtubule dependent. Taken together, we have characterized a novel, nonvesicular, microtubule-dependent transport pathway involving RNA-containing granules with Staufen as a core component. This is the first demonstration in living neurons of movement of an essential protein constituent of the mRNA transport machinery.
PMCID: PMC25535  PMID: 10473638
21.  EEA1, a Tethering Protein of the Early Sorting Endosome, Shows a Polarized Distribution in Hippocampal Neurons, Epithelial Cells, and Fibroblasts 
Molecular Biology of the Cell  2000;11(8):2657-2671.
EEA1 is an early endosomal Rab5 effector protein that has been implicated in the docking of incoming endocytic vesicles before fusion with early endosomes. Because of the presence of complex endosomal pathways in polarized and nonpolarized cells, we have examined the distribution of EEA1 in diverse cell types. Ultrastructural analysis demonstrates that EEA1 is present on a subdomain of the early sorting endosome but not on clathrin-coated vesicles, consistent with a role in providing directionality to early endosomal fusion. Furthermore, EEA1 is associated with filamentous material that extends from the cytoplasmic surface of the endosomal domain, which is also consistent with a tethering/docking role for EEA1. In polarized cells (Madin-Darby canine kidney cells and hippocampal neurons), EEA1 is present on a subset of “basolateral-type” endosomal compartments, suggesting that EEA1 regulates specific endocytic pathways. In both epithelial cells and fibroblastic cells, EEA1 and a transfected apical endosomal marker, endotubin, label distinct endosomal populations. Hence, there are at least two distinct sets of early endosomes in polarized and nonpolarized mammalian cells. EEA1 could provide specificity and directionality to fusion events occurring in a subset of these endosomes in polarized and nonpolarized cells.
PMCID: PMC14947  PMID: 10930461
22.  Axonal Membrane Proteins Are Transported in Distinct Carriers: A Two-Color Video Microscopy Study in Cultured Hippocampal NeuronsV⃞ 
Molecular Biology of the Cell  2000;11(4):1213-1224.
Neurons transport newly synthesized membrane proteins along axons by microtubule-mediated fast axonal transport. Membrane proteins destined for different axonal subdomains are thought to be transported in different transport carriers. To analyze this differential transport in living neurons, we tagged the amyloid precursor protein (APP) and synaptophysin (p38) with green fluorescent protein (GFP) variants. The resulting fusion proteins, APP-yellow fluorescent protein (YFP), p38-enhanced GFP, and p38-enhanced cyan fluorescent protein, were expressed in hippocampal neurons, and the cells were imaged by video microscopy. APP-YFP was transported in elongated tubules that moved extremely fast (on average 4.5 μm/s) and over long distances. In contrast, p38-enhanced GFP-transporting structures were more vesicular and moved four times slower (0.9 μm/s) and over shorter distances only. Two-color video microscopy showed that the two proteins were sorted to different carriers that moved with different characteristics along axons of doubly transfected neurons. Antisense treatment using oligonucleotides against the kinesin heavy chain slowed down the long, continuous movement of APP-YFP tubules and increased frequency of directional changes. These results demonstrate for the first time directly the sorting and transport of two axonal membrane proteins into different carriers. Moreover, the extremely fast-moving tubules represent a previously unidentified type of axonal carrier.
PMCID: PMC14842  PMID: 10749925

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