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Astrocytes mediate synapse elimination through MEGF10 and MERTK pathways.
Nature.Dec 19, 2013;504(7480):394-400.
Chung WS, Clarke LE, Wang GX, Stafford BK, Sher A, Chakraborty C, Joung J, Foo LC, Thompson A, Chen C, Smith SJ, Barres BA.
Department of Neurobiology, Stanford University, School of Medicine, Stanford, California 94305, USA.
To achieve its precise neural connectivity, the developing mammalian nervous system undergoes extensive activity-dependent synapse remodelling. Recently, microglial cells have been shown to be responsible for a portion of synaptic pruning, but the remaining mechanisms remain unknown. Here we report a new role for astrocytes in actively engulfing central nervous system synapses. This process helps to mediate synapse elimination, requires the MEGF10 and MERTK phagocytic pathways, and is strongly dependent on neuronal activity. Developing mice deficient in both astrocyte pathways fail to refine their retinogeniculate connections normally and retain excess functional synapses. Finally, we show that in the adult mouse brain, astrocytes continuously engulf both excitatory and inhibitory synapses. These studies reveal a novel role for astrocytes in mediating synapse elimination in the developing and adult brain, identify MEGF10 and MERTK as critical proteins in the synapse remodelling underlying neural circuit refinement, and have important implications for understanding learning and memory as well as neurological disease processes.