Wright, G.J., and Washbourne, P. (2011) Neurexins, Neuroligins and LRRTMs: synaptic adhesion getting fishy. Journal of neurochemistry. 117(5):765-778.
Recent studies have identified the leucine rich repeat protein LRRTM2 as a postsynaptic ligand of Neurexins. Neurexins also bind the postsynaptic adhesion molecules, Neuroligins. All three families of genes have been implicated in the etiologies of neurodevelopmental disorders, specifically autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) and schizophrenia. Does the binding promiscuity of Neurexins now suggest complex cooperativity or redundancy at the synapse? While recent studies in primary neuronal cultures and also systematic extracellular protein interaction screens suggest summative effects of these systems, we propose that studying these interactions in the developing zebrafish embryo or larvae may shed more light on their functions during synaptogenesis in vivo. These gene families have recently been extensively characterized in zebrafish, demonstrating high sequence conservation with the human genes. The simpler circuitry of the zebrafish, together with the characterization of the expression patterns down to single, identifiable neurons and the ability to knock-down or overexpress multiple genes in a rapid way lend themselves to dissecting complex interaction pathways. Furthermore, the capability of performing high-throughput drug screens suggests that these small vertebrates may prove extremely useful in identifying pharmacological approaches to treating ASDs.