Globular domains of agrin are functional units that collaborate to induce acetylcholine receptor clustering.
Agrin, an extracellular matrix protein involved in neuromuscular junction formation, directs clustering of postsynaptic molecules, including acetylcholine receptors (AChRs). This activity resides entirely in the C-terminal portion of the protein, which consists of three laminin-like globular domains (G-domains: G1, G2 and G3) and four EGF-like repeats. Additionally, alternate mRNA splicing yields G-domain variants G2(0,4) with 0- or 4-amino-acid inserts, and G3(0, 8,11,19) with 0-, 8-, 11- or 19-amino-acid inserts. In order to better understand the contributions of individual domains and alternate splicing to agrin activity, single G-domains and covalently linked pairs of G-domains were expressed as soluble proteins and their AChR clustering activity measured on cultured C2 myotubes. These analyses reveal the following: (1) While only G3(8) exhibits detectable activity by itself, all G-domains studied (G1, G2(0), G2(4), G3(0) and G3(8)) enhance G3(8) activity when physically linked to G3(8). This effect is most pronounced when G2(4) is linked to G3(8) and is independent of the order of the G-domains. (2) The deletion of EGF-like repeats enhances activity. (3) Increasing the physical separation between linked G1 and G3(8) domains produces a significant increase in activity; similar alterations to linked G2 and G3(8) domains are without effect. (4) Clusters induced by two concatenated G3(8) domains are significantly smaller than all other agrin forms studied. These data suggest that agrin G-domains are the functional units which interact independently of their specific organization to yield AChR clustering. G-domain synergism resulting in biological output could be due to physical interactions between G-domains or, alternatively, independent interactions of G-domains with cell surface receptors which require spatially localized coactivation for optimal signal transduction. (+info
Constitutively active MuSK is clustered in the absence of agrin and induces ectopic postsynaptic-like membranes in skeletal muscle fibers.
In skeletal muscle fibers, neural agrin can direct the accumulation of acetylcholine receptors (AChR) and transcription of AChR subunit genes from the subsynaptic nuclei. Although the receptor tyrosine kinase MuSK is required for AChR clustering, it is less clear whether MuSK regulates gene transcription. To elucidate the role of MuSK in these processes, we constructed a constitutively active MuSK receptor, MuSKneuTMuSK, taking advantage of the spontaneous homodimerization of the transmembrane domain of neuT, an oncogenic variant of the neu/erbB2 receptor. In the extrasynaptic region of innervated muscle fibers, MuSKneuTMuSK formed highly concentrated aggregates that colocalized with AChR clusters. Associated with MuSK-induced AChR clusters was a normal complement of synaptic proteins. Moreover, transcription of the AChR-epsilon subunit gene was increased, albeit via an indirect mechanism by MuSK-induced aggregation of erbB receptors and neuregulin. Although neural agrin was not required, the activity of MuSKneuTMuSK was nevertheless potentiated by ectopic expression of a muscle agrin isoform inactive in AChR clustering. To define the role of the kinase domain in the formation of a postsynaptic-like membrane, a second fusion receptor, neuneuTMuSK, which included the MuSK kinase but not the MuSK extracellular domain, was expressed. Significantly, neuneuTMuSK induced AChR clusters that colocalized with aggregates of endogenous MuSK. Taken together, it was concluded that the MuSK kinase domain is sufficient to initiate the recruitment of additional MuSK receptors, which then develop into highly concentrated aggregates by means of a positive feedback loop to induce a postsynaptic membrane in the absence of neural agrin. (+info
Agrin in Alzheimer's disease: altered solubility and abnormal distribution within microvasculature and brain parenchyma.
Agrin is a heparan sulfate proteoglycan that is widely expressed in neurons and microvascular basal lamina in the rodent and avian central nervous system. Agrin induces the differentiation of nerve-muscle synapses, but its function in either normal or diseased brains is not known. Alzheimer's disease (AD) is characterized by loss of synapses, changes in microvascular architecture, and formation of neurofibrillary tangles and senile plaques. Here we have asked whether AD causes changes in the distribution and biochemical properties of agrin. Immunostaining of normal, aged human central nervous system revealed that agrin is expressed in neurons in multiple brain areas. Robust agrin immunoreactivity was observed uniformly in the microvascular basal lamina. In AD brains, agrin is highly concentrated in both diffuse and neuritic plaques as well as neurofibrillary tangles; neuronal expression of agrin also was observed. Furthermore, patients with AD had microvascular alterations characterized by thinning and fragmentation of the basal lamina. Detergent extraction and Western blotting showed that virtually all the agrin in normal brain is soluble in 1% SDS. In contrast, a large fraction of the agrin in AD brains is insoluble under these conditions, suggesting that it is tightly associated with beta-amyloid. Together, these data indicate that the agrin abnormalities observed in AD are closely linked to beta-amyloid deposition. These observations suggest that altered agrin expression in the microvasculature and the brain parenchyma contribute to the pathogenesis of AD. (+info
Alternatively spliced isoforms of nerve- and muscle-derived agrin: their roles at the neuromuscular junction.
Agrin induces synaptic differentiation at the skeletal neuromuscular junction (NMJ); both pre- and postsynaptic differentiation are drastically impaired in its absence. Multiple alternatively spliced forms of agrin that differ in binding characteristics and bioactivity are synthesized by nerve and muscle cells. We used surgical chimeras, isoform-specific mutant mice, and nerve-muscle cocultures to determine the origins and nature of the agrin required for synaptogenesis. We show that agrin containing Z exons (Z+) is a critical nerve-derived inducer of postsynaptic differentiation, whereas neural isoforms containing a heparin binding site (Y+) and all muscle-derived isoforms are dispensable for major steps in synaptogenesis. Our results also suggest that the requirement of agrin for presynaptic differentiation is mediated indirectly by its ability to promote postsynaptic production or localization of appropriate retrograde signals. (+info
Roles of rapsyn and agrin in interaction of postsynaptic proteins with acetylcholine receptors.
At the neuromuscular junction, aggregates of acetylcholine receptors (AChRs) are anchored in the muscle membrane by association with rapsyn and other postsynaptic proteins. We have investigated the interactions between the AChR and these proteins in cultured C2 myotubes before and after treatment with agrin, a nerve-derived protein that induces AChRs to cluster. When AChRs were isolated from detergent extracts of untreated C2 myotubes, they were associated with rapsyn and, to a lesser degree, with utrophin, beta-dystroglycan, MuSK, and src-related kinases, but not with syntrophin. Treatment with agrin increased the association of AChRs with MuSK, a receptor tyrosine kinase that forms part of the agrin receptor complex, without affecting other interactions. Analysis of rapsyn-deficient myotubes, which do not form protein clusters in response to agrin, revealed that rapsyn is required for association of the AChR with utrophin and beta-dystroglycan, and for the agrin-induced increase in association with MuSK, but not for constitutive interactions with MuSK and src-related kinases. In rapsyn -/- myotubes, agrin caused normal tyrosine phosphorylation of AChR-associated and total MuSK, whereas phosphorylation of the AChR beta subunit, both constitutive and agrin-induced, was strongly reduced. These results show first that aneural myotubes contain preassembled AChR protein complexes that may function in the assembly of the postsynaptic apparatus, and second that rapsyn, in addition to its role in AChR phosphorylation, mediates selected protein interactions with the AChR and serves as a link between the AChR and the dystrophin/utrophin glycoprotein complex. (+info
Evidence of an agrin receptor in cortical neurons.
Agrin plays a key role in directing the differentiation of the vertebrate neuromuscular junction. Understanding agrin function at the neuromuscular junction has come via molecular genetic analyses of agrin as well as identification of its receptor and associated signal transduction pathways. Agrin is also expressed by many populations of neurons in brain, but its role remains unknown. Here we show, in cultured cortical neurons, that agrin induces expression of the immediate early gene c-fos in a concentration-dependent and saturable manner, as expected for a signal transduction pathway activated by a cell surface receptor. Agrin is active in cortical neurons at picomolar concentrations, is Ca(2+) dependent, and is inhibited by heparin and staurosporine. Despite marked differences in acetylcholine receptor (AChR)-clustering activity, all alternatively spliced forms of agrin are equally potent inducers of c-fos in cortical neurons. A similar, isoform-independent response to agrin was also observed in cultures prepared from the hippocampus and cerebellum. Only agrin with high AChR-clustering activity was effective in cultured muscle, whereas non-neuronal cells were agrin insensitive. Although consistent with a receptor tyrosine kinase model similar to the muscle-specific kinase-myotube-associated specificity component complex in muscle, our data suggest that CNS neurons express a unique agrin receptor. Evidence that neuronal signal transduction is mediated via an increase in intracellular Ca(2+) means that agrin is well situated to influence important Ca(2+)-dependent functions in brain, including neuronal growth, differentiation, and adaptive changes in gene expression associated with synaptic remodeling. (+info
Distinct domains of MuSK mediate its abilities to induce and to associate with postsynaptic specializations.
Agrin released from motor nerve terminals activates a muscle-specific receptor tyrosine kinase (MuSK) in muscle cells to trigger formation of the skeletal neuromuscular junction. A key step in synaptogenesis is the aggregation of acetylcholine receptors (AChRs) in the postsynaptic membrane, a process that requires the AChR-associated protein, rapsyn. Here, we mapped domains on MuSK necessary for its interactions with agrin and rapsyn. Myotubes from MuSK(-/)- mutant mice form no AChR clusters in response to agrin, but agrin-responsiveness is restored by the introduction of rat MuSK or a Torpedo orthologue. Thus, MuSK(-/)- myotubes provide an assay system for the structure-function analysis of MuSK. Using this system, we found that sequences in or near the first of four extracellular immunoglobulin-like domains in MuSK are required for agrin responsiveness, whereas sequences in or near the fourth immunoglobulin-like domain are required for interaction with rapsyn. Analysis of the cytoplasmic domain revealed that a recognition site for the phosphotyrosine binding domain-containing proteins is essential for MuSK activity, whereas consensus binding sites for the PSD-95/Dlg/ZO-1-like domain-containing proteins and phosphatidylinositol-3-kinase are dispensable. Together, our results indicate that the ectodomain of MuSK mediates both agrin- dependent activation of a complex signal transduction pathway and agrin-independent association of the kinase with other postsynaptic components. These interactions allow MuSK not only to induce a multimolecular AChR-containing complex, but also to localize that complex to a primary scaffold in the postsynaptic membrane. (+info
Formation of the neuromuscular junction. Agrin and its unusual receptors.
Synapses are essential relay stations for the transmission of information between neurones and other cells. An ordered and tightly regulated formation of these structures is crucial for the functioning of the nervous system. The induction of the intensively studied synapse between nerve and muscle is initiated by the binding of neurone-specific isoforms of the basal membrane protein agrin to receptors on the surface of myotubes. Agrin activates a receptor complex that includes the muscle-specific kinase and most likely additional, yet to be identified, components. Receptor activation leads to the aggregation of acetylcholine receptors (AChR) and other proteins of the postsynaptic apparatus. This activation process has unique features which distinguish it from other receptor tyrosine kinases. In particular, the autophosphorylation of the kinase domain, which usually induces the recruitment of adaptor and signalling molecules, is not sufficient for AChR aggregation. Apparently, interactions of the extracellular domain with unknown components are also required for this process. Agrin binds to a second protein complex on the muscle surface known as the dystrophin-associated glycoprotein complex. This binding forms one end of a molecular link between the extracellular matrix and the cytoskeleton. While many components of the machinery triggering postsynaptic differentiation have now been identified, our picture of the molecular pathway causing the redistribution of synaptic proteins is still incomplete. (+info