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Glial cells maintain synapses by inhibiting an activity-dependent retrograde protease signal
AuthorGould, Thomas W.
de Winter, Fred
Yeo, Gene W.
Degen, Jay L.
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Glial cells regulate multiple aspects of synaptogenesis. In the absence of Schwann cells, a peripheral glial cell, motor neurons initially innervate muscle but then degenerate. Here, using a genetic approach, we show that neural activity-regulated negative factors produced by muscle drive neurodegeneration in Schwann cell-deficient mice. We find that thrombin, the hepatic serine protease central to the hemostatic coagulation cascade, is one such negative factor. Trancriptomic analysis shows that expression of the antithrombins serpin C1 and D1 is significantly reduced in Schwann cell-deficient mice. In the absence of peripheral neuromuscular activity, neurodegeneration is completely blocked, and expression of prothrombin in muscle is markedly reduced. In the absence of muscle-derived prothrombin, neurodegeneration is also markedly reduced. Together, these results suggest that Schwann cells regulate NMJs by opposing the effects of activity-regulated, muscle-derived negative factors and provide the first genetic evidence that thrombin plays a central role outside of the coagulation system. Author summary We utilized genetic methods to examine how Schwann cells prevent degeneration of motor neurons (MNs) in the spinal cord. Blocking peripheral, neuromuscular activity completely rescued MNs and neuromuscular junctions (NMJs) in erbB3 mutant mice lacking Schwann cells, which normally exhibit profound neurodegeneration. We searched for the molecular basis of this effect by examining the transcriptomes (all of the expressed genes) in the muscle of control mice with Schwann cells and erbB3 mutant mice without them. We found evidence that a negative signal expressed by muscle was regulated by neural activity and normally blocked by factors produced in Schwann cells. When we eliminated this activity-induced negative signal (thrombin) from muscle, MNs and NMJs were protected in erbB3 mutants, similar to the effects of eliminating activity. Together, these results suggest that Schwann cells prevent neurodegeneration by inhibiting the effect of activity-induced, muscle-derived negative factors, rather than by providing trophic positive factors.