Dysregulation of BDNF-TrkB signaling in developing hippocampal neurons by Pb(2+): implications for an environmental basis of neurodevelopmental disorders.

Stansfield KH, Pilsner JR, Lu Q, Wright RO, Guilarte TR.

Toxicol Sci. 2012 May;127(1):277-95. PMID: 22345308

Dysregulation of synaptic development and function has been implicated in the pathophysiology of neurodegenerative disorders and mental disease. A neurotrophin that has an important function in neuronal and synaptic development is brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). In this communication, we examined the effects of lead (Pb(2+)) exposure on BDNF-tropomyosin-related kinase B (TrkB) signaling during the period of synaptogenesis in cultured neurons derived from embryonic rat hippocampi. We show that Pb(2+) exposure decreases BDNF gene and protein expression, and it may also alter the transport of BDNF vesicles to sites of release by altering Huntingtin phosphorylation and protein levels. Combined, these effects of Pb(2+) resulted in decreased concentrations of extracellular mature BDNF. The effect of Pb(2+) on BDNF gene expression was associated with a specific decrease in calcium-sensitive exon IV transcript levels and reduced phosphorylation and protein expression of the transcriptional repressor methyl-CpG-binding protein (MeCP2). TrkB protein levels and autophosphorylation at tyrosine 816 were significantly decreased by Pb(2+) exposure with a concomitant increase in p75 neurotrophin receptor (p75(NTR)) levels and altered TrkB-p75(NTR) colocalization. Finally, phosphorylation of Synapsin I, a presynaptic target of BDNF-TrkB signaling, was significantly decreased by Pb(2+) exposure with no effect on total Synapsin I protein levels. This effect of Pb(2+) exposure on Synapsin I phosphorylation may help explain the impairment in vesicular release documented by us previously (Neal, A. P., Stansfield, K. H., Worley, P. F., Thompson, R. E., and Guilarte, T. R. (2010). Lead exposure during synaptogenesis alters vesicular proteins and impairs vesicular release: Potential role of N-Methyl-D-aspartate receptor (NMDAR) dependent BDNF signaling. Toxicol. Sci. 116, 249-263) because it controls vesicle movement from the reserve pool to the readily releasable pool. In summary, the present study demonstrates that Pb(2+) exposure during the period of synaptogenesis of hippocampal neurons in culture disrupts multiple synaptic processes regulated by BDNF-TrkB signaling with long-term consequences for synaptic function and neuronal development.