Members of the neuroligin family of cell-adhesion proteins are found at excitatory and inhibitory synapses and are mutated in some familial forms of autism spectrum disorders. Although they display synaptogenic properties in heterologous systems, the function of neuroligins in vivo in the regulation of synapse formation and synapse number has been difficult to establish. We found that neuroligin-1 (NL1), which is located at excitatory postsynaptic densities, regulates activity-dependent synaptogenesis and mature synapse number on cortical layer 2/3 pyramidal neurons in vivo. However, synapse number was not sensitive to absolute NL1 levels but instead depended on transcellular differences in the relative amounts of NL1. These effects were independent of the cell-autonomous regulation of NMDA-type glutamate receptors by absolute levels of NL1. Our data indicate that transcellular competitive processes govern synapse formation and number in developing cortex and that NL1 has a central function in these processes.
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