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Zhang, Bo; Gokce, Ozgun; Hale, W. Dylan; Brose, Nils; Sudhof, Thomas C. (2018): Autism-associated neuroligin-4 mutation selectively impairs glycinergic synaptic transmission in mouse brainstem synapses. In: Journal of Experimental Medicine, Vol. 215, No. 6: pp. 1543-1553
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In human patients, loss-of-function mutations of the postsynaptic cell-adhesion molecule neuroligin-4 were repeatedly identified as monogenetic causes of autism. In mice, neuroligin-4 deletions caused autism-related behavioral impairments and subtle changes in synaptic transmission, and neuroligin-4 was found, at least in part, at glycinergic synapses. However, low expression levels precluded a comprehensive analysis of neuroligin-4 localization, and overexpression of neuroligin-4 puzzlingly impaired excitatory but not inhibitory synaptic function. As a result, the function of neuroligin-4 remains unclear, as does its relation to other neuroligins. To clarify these issues, we systematically examined the function of neuroligin-4, focusing on excitatory and inhibitory inputs to defined projection neurons of the mouse brainstem as central model synapses. We show that loss of neuroligin-4 causes a profound impairment of glycinergic but not glutamatergic synaptic transmission and a decrease in glycinergic synapse numbers. Thus, neuroligin-4 is essential for the organization and/or maintenance of glycinergic synapses.