BDNF-TrkB Signaling in Single-Spine Structural Plasticity

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Harward, Stephen Cannada


McNamara, James O
Yasuda, Ryohei

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Multiple lines of evidence reveal that activation of the tropomyosin related kinase B (TrkB) receptor is a critical molecular mechanism underlying status epilepticus (SE) induced epilepsy development. However, the cellular consequences of such signaling remain unknown. To this point, localization of SE-induced TrkB activation to CA1 apical dendritic spines provides an anatomic clue pointing to Schaffer collateral-CA1 synaptic plasticity as one potential cellular consequence of TrkB activation. Here, we combine two-photon glutamate uncaging with two photon fluorescence lifetime imaging microscopy (2pFLIM) of fluorescence resonance energy transfer (FRET)-based sensors to specifically investigate the roles of TrkB and its canonical ligand brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in dendritic spine structural plasticity (sLTP) of CA1 pyramidal neurons in cultured hippocampal slices of rodents. To begin, we demonstrate a critical role for post-synaptic TrkB and post-synaptic BDNF in sLTP. Building on these findings, we develop a novel FRET-based sensor for TrkB activation that can report both BDNF and non-BDNF activation in a specific and reversible manner. Using this sensor, we monitor the spatiotemporal dynamics of TrkB activity during single-spine sLTP. In response to glutamate uncaging, we report a rapid (onset less than 1 minute) and sustained (lasting at least 20 minutes) activation of TrkB in the stimulated spine that depends on N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor (NMDAR)-Ca2+/Calmodulin dependent kinase II (CaMKII) signaling as well as post-synaptically synthesized BDNF. Consistent with these findings, we also demonstrate rapid, glutamate uncaging-evoked, time-locked release of BDNF from single dendritic spines using BDNF fused to superecliptic pHluorin (SEP). Finally, to elucidate the molecular mechanisms by which TrkB activation leads to sLTP, we examined the dependence of Rho GTPase activity - known mediators of sLTP - on BDNF-TrkB signaling. Through the use of previously described FRET-based sensors, we find that the activities of ras-related C3 botulinum toxin substrate 1 (Rac1) and cell division control protein 42 (Cdc42) require BDNF-TrkB signaling. Taken together, these findings reveal a spine-autonomous, autocrine signaling mechanism involving NMDAR-CaMKII dependent BDNF release from stimulated dendritic spines leading to TrkB activation and subsequent activation of the downstream molecules Rac1 and Cdc42 in these same spines that proves critical for sLTP. In conclusion, these results highlight structural plasticity as one cellular consequence of CA1 dendritic spine TrkB activation that may potentially contribute to larger, circuit-level changes underlying SE-induced epilepsy.






Harward, Stephen Cannada (2016). BDNF-TrkB Signaling in Single-Spine Structural Plasticity. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from


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