Postsynaptic FMRP bidirectionally regulates excitatory synapses as a function of developmental age and MEF2 activity

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Rates of synapse formation and elimination change over the course of postnatal development, but little is known of molecular mechanisms that mediate this developmental switch. Here, we report that the dendritic RNA-binding protein fragile X mental retardation protein (FMRP) bidirectionally and cell autonomously regulates excitatory synaptic function, which depends on developmental age as well as function of the activity-dependent transcription factor myocyte enhancer factor 2 (MEF2). The acute postsynaptic expression of FMRP in CA1 neurons of hippocampal slice cultures (during the first postnatal week, P6–P7) promotes synapse function and maturation. In contrast, the acute expression of FMRP or endogenous FMRP in more mature neurons (during the second postnatal week; P13–P16) suppresses synapse number. The ability of neuronal depolarization to stimulate MEF2 transcriptional activity increases over this same developmental period. Knockout of endogenous MEF2 isoforms causes acute postsynaptic FMRP expression to promote, instead of eliminate, synapses onto 2-week-old neurons. Conversely, the expression of active MEF2 in neonatal neurons results in a precocious FMRP-dependent synapse elimination. Our findings suggest that FMRP and MEF2 function together to fine tune synapse formation and elimination rates in response to neuronal activity levels over the course of postnatal development.

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