Normal development of cortical circuits, including experience-dependent cortical maturation and plasticity, requires precise temporal regulation of gene expression and molecular signaling. Such regulation, and the concomitant impact on plasticity and critical periods, is hypothesized to be disrupted in neurodevelopmental disorders. A protein that may serve such a function is the MET receptor tyrosine kinase, which is tightly regulated developmentally in rodents and primates, and exhibits reduced cortical expression in autism spectrum disorder and Rett Syndrome. We found that the peak of MET expression in developing mouse cortex coincides with the heightened period of synaptogenesis, but is precipitously downregulated prior to extensive synapse pruning and certain peak periods of cortical plasticity. These results reflect a potential on–off regulatory synaptic mechanism for specific glutamatergic cortical circuits in which MET is enriched. In order to address the functional significance of the ‘off’ component of the proposed mechanism, we created a controllable transgenic mouse line that sustains cortical MET signaling. Continued MET expression in cortical excitatory neurons disrupted synaptic protein profiles, altered neuronal morphology, and impaired visual cortex circuit maturation and connectivity. Remarkably, sustained MET signaling eliminates monocular deprivation-induced ocular dominance plasticity during the normal cortical critical period; while ablating MET signaling leads to early closure of critical period plasticity. The results demonstrate a novel mechanism in which temporal regulation of a pleiotropic signaling protein underlies cortical circuit maturation and timing of cortical critical period, features that may be disrupted in neurodevelopmental disorders.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Molecular Biology
- Psychiatry and Mental health
- Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience