Latefi, N.S., Pedraza, L., Schohl, A., Li, Z., and Ruthazer, E.S. (2009) N-cadherin prodomain cleavage regulates synapse formation in vivo. Developmental Neurobiology. 69(8):518-529.
Cadherins are initially synthesized bearing a prodomain that is thought to limit adhesion during early stages of biosynthesis. Functional cadherins lack this prodomain, raising the intriguing possibility that cells may utilize prodomain cleavage as a means to temporally or spatially regulate adhesion after delivery of cadherin to the cell surface. In support of this idea, immunostaining for the prodomain of zebrafish N-cadherin revealed enriched labeling at neuronal surfaces at the soma and along axonal processes. To determine whether post-translational cleavage of the prodomain affects synapse formation, we imaged Rohon-Beard cells in zebrafish embryos expressing GFP-tagged wild-type N-cadherin (NCAD-GFP) or a GFP-tagged N-cadherin mutant expressing an uncleavable prodomain (PRON-GFP) rendering it nonadhesive. NCAD-GFP accumulated at synaptic microdomains in a developmentally regulated manner, and its overexpression transiently accelerated synapse formation. PRON-GFP was much more diffusely distributed along the axon and its overexpression delayed synapse formation. Our results support the notion that N-cadherin serves to stabilize pre- to postsynaptic contacts early in synapse development and suggests that regulated cleavage of the N-cadherin prodomain may be a mechanism by which the kinetics of synaptogenesis are regulated.