Eps8 Regulates Axonal Filopodia in Hippocampal Neurons in Response to Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) Eps8 Regulates Axonal Filopodia in Hippocampal Neurons in Response to Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF)
Paper summary The regulation of filopodia plays a crucial role during neuronal development and synaptogenesis. Axonal filopodia, which are known to originate presynaptic specializations, are regulated in response to neurotrophic factors. The structural components of filopodia are actin filaments, whose dynamics and organization are controlled by ensembles of actin-binding proteins. How neurotrophic factors regulate these latter proteins remains, however, poorly defined. Here, using a combination of mouse genetic, biochemical, and cell biological assays, we show that genetic removal of Eps8, an actin-binding and regulatory protein enriched in the growth cones and developing processes of neurons, significantly augments the number and density of vasodilator-stimulated phosphoprotein (VASP)-dependent axonal filopodia. The reintroduction of Eps8 wild type (WT), but not an Eps8 capping-defective mutant, into primary hippocampal neurons restored axonal filopodia to WT levels. We further show that the actin barbed-end capping activity of Eps8 is inhibited by brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) treatment through MAPK-dependent phosphorylation of Eps8 residues S624 and T628. Additionally, an Eps8 mutant, impaired in the MAPK target sites (S624A/T628A), displays increased association to actin-rich structures, is resistant to BDNF-mediated release from microfilaments, and inhibits BDNF-induced filopodia. The opposite is observed for a phosphomimetic Eps8 (S624E/T628E) mutant. Thus, collectively, our data identify Eps8 as a critical capping protein in the regulation of axonal filopodia and delineate a molecular pathway by which BDNF, through MAPK-dependent phosphorylation of Eps8, stimulates axonal filopodia formation, a process with crucial impacts on neuronal development and synapse formation. Neurons communicate with each other via specialized cell-cell junctions called synapses. The proper formation of synapses ("synaptogenesis") is crucial to the development of the nervous system, but the molecular pathways that regulate this process are not fully understood. External cues, such as brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), trigger synaptogenesis by promoting the formation of axonal filopodia, thin extensions projecting outward from a growing axon. Filopodia are formed by elongation of actin filaments, a process that is regulated by a complex set of actin-binding proteins. Here, we reveal a novel molecular circuit underlying BDNF-stimulated filopodia formation through the regulated inhibition of actin-capping factor activity. We show that the actin-capping protein Eps8 down-regulates axonal filopodia formation in neurons in the absence of neurotrophic factors. In contrast, in the presence of BDNF, the kinase MAPK becomes activated and phosphorylates Eps8, leading to inhibition of its actin-capping function and stimulation of filopodia formation. Our study, therefore, identifies actin-capping factor inhibition as a critical step in axonal filopodia formation and likely in new synapse formation.

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