Mechanisms of TGF-β1-induced neuronal plasticity in Aplysia

Jeannie Chin, The University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at Houston


Transforming growth factor beta-1 (TGF-β1) is a cytokine and neurotrophic factor whose neuromodulatory effects in Aplysia californica were recently described. Previous results demonstrated that TGF-β1 induces long-term increases in the efficacy of sensorimotor synapses, a neural correlate of sensitization of the defensive tail withdrawal reflex. These results provided the first evidence that a neurotrophic factor regulates neuronal plasticity associated with a simple form of learning in Aplysia, and raised many questions regarding the nature of the modulation. No homologs of TGF-β had previously been identified in Aplysia, and thus, it was not known whether components of TGF-β1 signaling pathways were present in Aplysia. Furthermore, the signaling mechanisms engaged by TGF-β1 had not been identified, and it was not known whether TGF-β1 regulated other aspects of neuronal function. The present investigation into the actions of TGF-β1 was initiated by examining the distribution of the type II TGF-β1 receptor, the ligand binding receptor. The receptor was widely distributed in the CNS and most neurons exhibited somatic and neuritic immunoreactivity. In addition, the ability of TGF-β1 to activate the cAMP/PKA and MAPK pathways, known to regulate several important aspects of neuronal function, was examined. TGF-β1 acutely decreased cAMP levels in sensory neurons, activated MAPK and triggered translocation of MAPK to the nucleus. MAPK activation was critical for both short- and long-term regulation of neuronal function by TGF-β1. TGF-β1 acutely decreased synaptic depression induced by low frequency stimuli in a MAPK-dependent manner. This regulation may result, at least in part, from the modulation of synapsin, a major peripheral synaptic vesicle protein. TGF-β1 stimulated MAPK-dependent phosphorylation of synapsin, a process believed to regulate synaptic vesicle mobilization from reserve to readily-releasable pools of neurotransmitter. In addition to its acute effect on synaptic efficacy, TGF-β1 also induced long-term increases in sensory neuron excitability. Whereas transient exposure to TGF-β1 was not sufficient to drive short-or long-term changes in excitability, prolonged exposure to TGF-β1 induced long-term changes in excitability that depended on MAPK. The results of these studies represent significant progress toward an understanding of the role of TGF-β1 in neuronal plasticity.

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Recommended Citation

Chin, Jeannie, "Mechanisms of TGF-β1-induced neuronal plasticity in Aplysia" (2001). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI3017535.