Retrograde Synaptic Inhibition Is Mediated by α-Neurexin Binding to the α2δ Subunits of N-Type Calcium Channels

The synaptic adhesion molecules Neurexin and Neuroligin alter the development and function of synapses and are linked to autism in humans. In C. elegans, post-synaptic Neurexin (NRX-1) and pre-synaptic Neuroligin (NLG-1) mediate a retrograde synaptic signal that inhibits acetylcholine (ACh) release at neuromuscular junctions. Here, we show that the retrograde signal decreases ACh release by inhibiting the function of pre-synaptic UNC-2/CaV2 calcium channels. Post-synaptic NRX-1 binds to an auxiliary subunit of pre-synaptic UNC-2/CaV2 channels (UNC-36/α2δ), decreasing UNC-36 abundance at pre-synaptic elements. Retrograde inhibition is mediated by a soluble form of NRX-1’s ectodomain, which is released from the post-synaptic membrane by the SUP-17/ADAM10 protease. Mammalian Neurexin-1α binds α2δ-3 and decreases CaV2.2 current in transfected cells, whereas Neurexin-1α has no effect on CaV2.2 reconstituted with α2δ-1 and α2δ-2. Collectively, these results suggest that α-Neurexin binding to α2δ is a conserved mechanism for regulating synaptic transmission.

Keywords: C. elegans; CACNA2D; Mef2; Neurexin; Neuroligin; autism; calcium channel; synaptic transmission.