Document Type


Date of Degree

Fall 2009

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In


First Advisor

Joshua A. Weiner

First Committee Member

Kevin P Campbell

Second Committee Member

Michael E Dailey

Third Committee Member

Steven H Green

Fourth Committee Member

Jim JC Lin


During development, the mammalian nervous system wires into a precise network of unrivaled complexity. The formation of this network is regulated by an assortment of molecular cues, both secreted molecules and cell-surface proteins. The ã-Protocadherins (ã-Pcdhs) are particularly good candidates for involvement in these processes. This family of adhesion molecules consists of 22 members, each with diverse extracellular adhesive domains and shared cytoplasmic domains. Thus, cellular interactions with varied adhesive partners can trigger common cytoplasmic responses. Here we investigated the functions of the ã-Pcdhs in two processes involved in neural network formation: dendrite arborization and synaptogenesis.

We first asked how ã-Pcdhs regulate synaptogenesis in the spinal cord. We found that the ã-Pcdhs are differentially expressed by astrocytes as well as neurons. In astrocytes, the proteins localize to perisynaptic processes where they can mediate contacts between neurons and astrocytes. In an in vitro co-culture system in which either only astrocytes or only neurons were null for the ã-Pcdhs, we found that astrocytic ã-Pcdh is required for an early stage of synaptogenesis in a contact-dependent manner, while neuronal ã-Pcdh is sufficient for later stages. Conversely, if neurons lacked the adhesion molecules, very few synaptic contacts formed at all. By deleting the ã-Pcdhs from astrocytes in vivo, we demonstrated that these contacts are required for the normal progression of synaptogenesis.

We also investigated the function of the ã-Pcdhs in the cerebral cortex. We found that cortical-restricted loss of the adhesion molecules resulted in a severe reduction in thickness of layer 1. By crossing the mutant mice to a line in which scattered layer 5 neurons express YFP, we saw that this thinning resulted from a reduced complexity in the apical tufts of dendrites from layer 5 neurons. Sholl analysis demonstrated that the arbor reduction existed throughout the cell, a phenotype that was recapitulated in vitro. Using the in vitro system, we found that the arborization defect was caused by hyperphosphorylation of the PKC substrate, MARCKS, indicating that the ã-Pcdhs may function by inhibiting PKC activity. Thus, we provide new information about the mechanisms through which the ã-Pcdhs influence neural network development.


x, 126 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 108-126).


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Copyright 2009 Andrew Garrett