Presynaptic α2δ subunits are key organizers of glutamatergic synapses

Clemens L Schöpf, Cornelia Ablinger, Stefanie M Geisler, Ruslan I Stanika, Marta Campiglio, Walter A Kaufmann, Benedikt Nimmervoll, Bettina Schlick, Johannes Brockhaus, Markus Missler, Ryuichi Shigemoto, Gerald J Obermair

Research output: Journal article (peer-reviewed)Journal article

29 Citations (Scopus)


In nerve cells the genes encoding for α2δ subunits of voltage-gated calcium channels have been linked to synaptic functions and neurological disease. Here we show that α2δ subunits are essential for the formation and organization of glutamatergic synapses. Using a cellular α2δ subunit triple-knockout/knockdown model, we demonstrate a failure in presynaptic differentiation evidenced by defective presynaptic calcium channel clustering and calcium influx, smaller presynaptic active zones, and a strongly reduced accumulation of presynaptic vesicle-associated proteins (synapsin and vGLUT). The presynaptic defect is associated with the downscaling of postsynaptic AMPA receptors and the postsynaptic density. The role of α2δ isoforms as synaptic organizers is highly redundant, as each individual α2δ isoform can rescue presynaptic calcium channel trafficking and expression of synaptic proteins. Moreover, α2δ-2 and α2δ-3 with mutated metal ion-dependent adhesion sites can fully rescue presynaptic synapsin expression but only partially calcium channel trafficking, suggesting that the regulatory role of α2δ subunits is independent from its role as a calcium channel subunit. Our findings influence the current view on excitatory synapse formation. First, our study suggests that postsynaptic differentiation is secondary to presynaptic differentiation. Second, the dependence of presynaptic differentiation on α2δ implicates α2δ subunits as potential nucleation points for the organization of synapses. Finally, our results suggest that α2δ subunits act as transsynaptic organizers of glutamatergic synapses, thereby aligning the synaptic active zone with the postsynaptic density.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere1920827118
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number14
Publication statusPublished - 06 Apr 2021


  • Animals
  • Calcium Channels/genetics
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Glutamic Acid/metabolism
  • Hippocampus/cytology
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Presynaptic Terminals/metabolism
  • Protein Isoforms/metabolism


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