Cortactin Contributes to Activity-Dependent Modulation of Spine Actin Dynamics and Spatial Memory Formation
Postsynaptic structures on excitatory neurons, dendritic spines, are actin-rich. It is well known that actin-binding proteins regulate actin dynamics and by this means orchestrate structural plasticity during the development of the brain, as well as synaptic plasticity mediating learning and memory processes. The actin-binding protein cortactin is localized to pre- and postsynaptic structures and translocates in a stimulus-dependent manner between spines and the dendritic compartment, thereby indicating a crucial role for synaptic plasticity and neuronal function. While it is known that cortactin directly binds F-actin, the Arp2/3 complex important for actin nucleation and branching as well as other factors involved in synaptic plasticity processes, its precise role in modulating actin remodeling in neurons needs to be deciphered. In this study, we characterized the general neuronal function of cortactin in knockout mice. Interestingly, we found that the loss of cortactin leads to deficits in hippocampus-dependent spatial memory formation. This impairment is correlated with a prominent dysregulation of functional and structural plasticity. Additional evidence shows impaired long-term potentiation in cortactin knockout mice together with a complete absence of structural spine plasticity. These phenotypes might at least in part be explained by alterations in the activity-dependent modulation of synaptic actin in cortactin-deficient neurons.