Theses Doctoral

Molecular Mechanisms of Synaptic Vesicle Degradation

Sheehan, Patricia Jane

Neurons rely on precise spatial and temporal control of neurotransmitter release to ensure proper communication. Neurotransmission occurs when synaptic vesicles in the presynaptic compartment fuse with the plasma membrane and release their contents into the synaptic cleft, where neurotransmitters bind to receptors on the postsynaptic neuron. Synaptic vesicle pools must maintain a functional repertoire of proteins in order to efficiently release neurotransmitter. Indeed, the accumulation of old or damaged proteins on synaptic vesicle membranes is linked to synaptic dysfunction and neurodegeneration. Despite the importance of synaptic vesicle protein turnover for neuronal health, the molecular mechanisms underlying this process are unknown. In this thesis, we present work that uncovers key components that regulate synaptic vesicle degradation. Specifically, we identify a pathway that mediates the activity-dependent turnover of a subset of synaptic vesicle membrane proteins in mammalian neurons. This pathway requires the synaptic vesicle-associated GTPase Rab35, the ESCRT machinery, and synaptic vesicle protein ubiquitination. We further demonstrate that neuronal activity stimulates synaptic vesicle protein turnover by inducing Rab35 activation and binding to the ESCRT-0 component Hrs, which we have identified as a novel Rab35 effector. These actions recruit the downstream ESCRT machinery to synaptic vesicle pools, thereby initiating synaptic vesicle protein degradation via the ESCRT pathway. Interestingly, we find that not all synaptic vesicle proteins are degraded by this mechanism, suggesting that synaptic vesicles are not degraded as units, but rather that SV proteins are degraded individually or in subsets. Moreover, we find that lysine-63 ubiquitination of VAMP2 is required for its degradation, and we identify an E3 ubiquitin ligase, RNF167, that is responsible for this activity. Our findings show that RNF167 and the Rab35/ESCRT pathway facilitate the removal of specific proteins from synaptic vesicle pools, thereby maintaining presynaptic protein homeostasis. Overall, our studies provide novel mechanistic insight into the coupling of neuronal activity with synaptic vesicle protein degradation, and implicate ubiquitination as a major regulator in maintaining functional synaptic vesicle pools. These findings will facilitate future studies determining the effects of perturbations to synaptic homeostasis in neuronal dysfunction and degeneration.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Pathobiology and Molecular Medicine
Thesis Advisors
Waites, Clarissa
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
September 15, 2016