Loss of postsynaptic NMDARs drives nanoscale reorganization of Munc13-1 and PSD-95

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Nanoscale protein organization within the active zone (AZ) and post-synaptic density (PSD) influences synaptic transmission. Nanoclusters of presynaptic Munc13-1 are associated with readily releasable pool size and neurotransmitter vesicle priming, while postsynaptic PSD-95 nanoclusters coordinate glutamate receptors across from release sites to control their opening probability. Nanocluster number, size, and protein density vary between synapse types and with development and plasticity, supporting a wide range of functional states at the synapse. Whether or how the receptors themselves control this critical architecture remains unclear. One prominent PSD molecular complex is the NMDA receptor (NMDAR). NMDARs coordinate several modes of signaling within synapses, giving them the potential to influence synaptic organization through direct protein interactions or through signaling. We found that loss of NMDARs results in larger synapses that contain smaller, denser, and more numerous PSD-95 nanoclusters. Intriguingly, NMDAR loss also generates retrograde reorganization of the active zone, resulting in denser, more numerous Munc13-1 nanoclusters, more of which are aligned with PSD-95 nanoclusters. Together, these changes to synaptic nanostructure predict stronger AMPA receptor-mediated transmission in the absence of NMDARs. Notably, while prolonged antagonism of NMDAR activity increases Munc13-1 density within nanoclusters, it does not fully recapitulate these trans-synaptic effects. Thus, our results confirm that NMDARs play an important role in maintaining pre- and postsynaptic nanostructure and suggest that both decreased NMDAR expression and suppressed NMDAR activity may exert distinct effects on synaptic function, yet through unique architectural mechanisms.

Significance Statement

Synaptic transmission is shaped by the trans-synaptic coordination of molecular ensembles required for neurotransmitter release and receptor retention, but how receptors themselves influence this critical architecture remains unclear. Using state-of-the-art super-resolution microscopy, we report that loss of NMDA receptors from excitatory synapses alters both pre- and postsynaptic nano-organizational features. Notably, pharmacological antagonism of NMDA receptors also alters presynaptic features, but without fully mimicking effects of the knockout. This suggests that both NMDA receptor activity and presence at the synapse exert retrograde influence on active zone organization. Because numerous disease and activity states decrease expression or function of NMDA receptors, our results suggest that distinct nanostructural states contribute to the unique functional status of synapses in these disorders.

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