In the mammalian forebrain, most glutamatergic excitatory synapses occur on small dendritic protrusions called dendritic spines. Dendritic spines are highly plastic and can rapidly change morphology in response to numerous stimuli. This dynamic remodeling of dendritic spines is thought to be critical for information processing, memory and cognition. Conversely, multiple studies have revealed that neuropathologies such as autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are linked with alterations in dendritic spine morphologies and miswiring of neural circuitry. One compelling hypothesis is that abnormal dendritic spine remodeling is a key contributing factor for this miswiring. Ongoing research has identified a number of mechanisms that are critical for the control of dendritic spine remodeling. Among these mechanisms, regulation of small GTPase signaling by guanine-nucleotide exchange factors (GEFs) is emerging as a critical mechanism for integrating physiological signals in the control of dendritic spine remodeling. Furthermore, multiple proteins associated with regulation of dendritic spine remodeling have also been implicated with multiple neuropathologies, including ASDs. Epac2, a GEF for the small GTPase Rap, has recently been described as a novel cAMP (yet PKA-independent) target localized to dendritic spines. Signaling via this protein in response to pharmacological stimulation or cAMP accumulation, via the dopamine D1/5 receptor, results in Rap activation, promotes structural destabilization, in the form of dendritic spine shrinkage, and functional depression due to removal of GluR2/3-containing AMPA receptors. In addition, Epac2 forms macromolecular complexes with ASD-associated proteins, which are sufficient to regulate Epac2 localization and function. Furthermore, rare non-synonymous variants of the EPAC2 gene associated with the ASD phenotype alter protein function, synaptic protein distribution, and spine morphology. We review here the role of Epac2 in the remodeling of dendritic spines under normal conditions, the mechanisms that underlie these effects, and the implications these disease-associated variants have on our understanding of the pathophysiology of ASD.
- Dendritic spine
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Molecular Biology
- Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
- Cell Biology