Document Type


Date of Degree

Fall 2015

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In


First Advisor

Joshua A. Weiner


Growth of a properly complex dendrite arbor is a vital step in neuronal differentiation and a prerequisite for normal neural circuit formation; likewise, overly dense or sparse dendrite arbors are a key feature of abnormal neural circuit formation and characteristic of many neurodevelopmental disorders. Thus, identifying factors involved in aberrant dendrite complexity and therefore aberrant circuit formation, are necessary to understanding these disorders. In my doctoral work I have elucidated both intracellular and extracellular aspects to the gamma-protocadherins (γ-Pcdhs) that regulate dendrite complexity.

Loss of the 22 γ-Pcdhs, adhesion molecules that interact homophilically and are expressed combinatorially in neurons and astrocytes, leads to aberrantly high activity of focal adhesion kinase (FAK) and reduced dendrite complexity in cortical neurons. Little is known, however, about how γ-Pcdh function is regulated by other factors. Here I show that PKC phosphorylates a serine residue situated within the shared γ-Pcdh C-terminus; PKC phosphorylation disrupts the γ-Pcdhs’ inhibition of FAK. Additionally, γ-Pcdh phosphorylation or a phosphomimetic mutant reduce dendritic arbors, while blocking γ-Pcdh phosphorylation increases dendrite complexity. Together, these data identify a novel intracellular mechanism through which γ-Pcdh control of a signaling pathway important for dendrite arborization is regulated.

Although specific interactions between diverse cell surface molecules are proposed to regulate circuit formation, the extent to which these promote dendrite growth and branching is unclear. Here, using transgenic mice to manipulate expression in vivo, I and my colleagues show that the complexity of a cortical neuron’s dendritic arbor is regulated by γ-Pcdh isoform matching with surrounding cells. Expression of the same single γ-Pcdh isoform leads to exuberant or minimal arbor complexity depending on matched expression of surrounding cells. Additionally, loss of γ-Pcdhs in astrocytes, or induced mis-matching between astrocytes and neurons, reduces dendrite complexity in a cell non-autonomous manner. Thus, these data support our proposal that γ-Pcdhs create a rare neuronal identity that, depending on the identities of surrounding cells, specifies the complexity of that neuron’s dendritic arbor.


xi, 136 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 121-136).


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Copyright © 2015 Austin Byler Keeler