The role of synaptopodin in neuroinflammation and retinoic acid-mediated synaptic plasticity in the mouse hippocampus

The human brain is one of the most complex biological systems. More than 100 billion neurons build networks that control basic body functions and highly coordinated movements, enable us to express emotions, feelings and 
The human brain is one of the most complex biological systems. More than 100 billion neurons build networks that control basic body functions and highly coordinated movements, enable us to express emotions, feelings and thoughts and to store memories over years and even throughout life time. Ultimately, “We are who we are because of what we learn and what we remember” (Kandel 2006). Under pathological conditions, the brain function is challenged. Most if not all neurological diseases have in common that they are either triggered and/or accompanied by inflammatory processes of brain tissue, referred to as neuroinflammation. Such inflammatory processes directly affect an elementary neural mechanism relevant for learning and memory: synaptic plasticity. Indeed, neurons are highly dynamic structures and able to respond to specific stimuli with morphological, functional and molecular adaptations that modify the strength and number of neuronal contact sides (synapses). Hence, the main motivation of this thesis was to identify the neural targets through which inflammation affects brain function and synaptic plasticity in particular. The principles of synaptic plasticity have been studied intensively in the hippocampus, an anatomical structure localized within the temporal lobes that is essential for the consolidation of memories and spatial navigation. Synaptic plasticity is coordinated by complex interactions of thousands of molecules and proteins. Among those proteins, synaptopodin (SP) is localized at a strategic position within excitatory synapses and has been shown to be fundamentally involved in the regulation of synaptic plasticity. 
To induce neuroinflammation and to study its effects on SP as well as synaptic plasticity, the classic model of lipopolysaccharide (LPS) was applied. This thesis discloses that inflammatory processes impair the ability of neurons to express hippocampal synaptic plasticity in vivo, which is accompanied by a downregulation of SP-mRNA and protein level in the mouse hippocampus, indicating that SP is one of the cellular targets through which inflammatory signaling pathways affect synaptic plasticity and hence neural function. To learn more about the cellular and molecular mechanisms, an in vitro LPS model was established using entorhino-hippocampal organotypic slice cultures (OTCs). 
While confirming the major effect of LPS on SP, this thesis furthermore shows that neuroinflammation crucially involves the cytokine TNFα to transduce its effects on SP, and that microglial cells are the main source of TNFα production under inflammatory conditions. In an attempt to learn more about the mechanisms that are affected under conditions of neuroinflammation effects of retinoic acid (RA), a vitamin A derivate were tested. This is mainly because SP as well as RA have been shown to modulate synaptic plasticity through the accumulation of glutamate receptors at the postsynaptic site: SP via the association with the actincytoskeleton as well as intracellular calcium stores, and RA directly via the modulation of local protein synthesis within dendrites. Indeed, in slice cultures exposed to RA, hippocampal SP cluster size is upregulated, both in vitro and in vivo. Intriguingly, a lack of SP prevents RA-induced synaptic strengthening of hippocampal dentate granule cells in OTCs. This suggests a direct contribution of SP in RA-dependent synaptic plasticity. Interestingly, co-immunoprecipitation of SP-mRNA together with the RA-receptor alpha (RARα) further implies that RA directly controls synaptic plasticity via regulation of SP-protein expression. It is therefore interesting to speculate that RA may increase SP expression or prevent its reduction and thus alterations in synaptic plasticity under conditions of neuroinflammation. Taken together, this thesis identifies SP as an important neuronal target of TNFα-mediated alterations in synaptic plasticity. Moreover, the work on RA indicates that SP affects the ability of neurons to express synaptic plasticity by modulating/mediating local protein synthesis. Since neuroinflammatory processes are an elementary concomitant feature and/or cause of neurological diseases, I am confident that future work on the effects of inflammatory processes on brain function may provide the perspective in devising new therapeutic strategies for the treatment of neuropathologies such as Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy or stroke, by targeting SP expression and SP-mediated synaptic plasticity.
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Author:Andreas Strehl
Place of publication:Frankfurt am Main
Referee:Manfred Kössl, Andreas Vlachos
Document Type:Doctoral Thesis
Date of Publication (online):2018/10/28
Year of first Publication:2017
Publishing Institution:Universitätsbibliothek Johann Christian Senckenberg
Granting Institution:Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität
Date of final exam:2018/10/12
Release Date:2018/11/02
HeBIS PPN:438466861
Dewey Decimal Classification:570 Biowissenschaften; Biologie
Biologische Hochschulschriften (Goethe-Universität)
Licence (German):License Logo Veröffentlichungsvertrag für Publikationen

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