Neurofibromatosis type 2 (NF2) patients are prone to develop glial-derived tumors in the peripheral and central nervous system (CNS). The Nf2 gene product -Merlin is not only expressed in glia, but also in neurons of the CNS, where its function still remains elusive. Here, we show that cerebellar Purkinje cells (PCs) of isoform-specific Merlin-deficient mice were innervated by smaller vGluT2-positive clusters at presynaptic terminals than those of wild-type mice. This was paralleled by a reduction in frequency and amplitude of miniature excitatory postsynaptic currents (mEPSC). On the contrary, in conditional transgenic mice in which Merlin expression was specifically ablated in PCs (L7Cre;Nf2fl/fl), we found enlarged vGluT2-positive clusters in their presynaptic buttons together with increased amplitudes of miniature postsynaptic currents. The presynaptic terminals of these PCs innervating neurons of the deep cerebellar nuclei were also enlarged. When exploring mice with Merlin-deficient granule cells (GCs) (Math1Cre;Nf2fl/fl), we found cerebellar extracts to contain higher amounts of vGluT1 present in parallel fiber terminals. In parallel, mEPSC frequency was increased in Math1Cre;Nf2fl/fl mice. On the contrary, VGluT2 clusters in cerebellar glomeruli composed of NF2-deficient presynaptic Mossy fiber terminals and NF2-deficient postsynaptic GC were reduced in size as shown for isoform-specific knockout mice. These changes in Math1Cre;Nf2fl/fl-deficient mice were paralleled by an increased activation of Rac1-Cofilin signaling which is known to impact on cytoskeletal reorganization and synapse formation. Consistent with the observed synaptic alterations in these transgenic mice, we observed altered ultrasonic vocalization, which is known to rely on proper cerebellar function. No gross morphological changes or motor coordination deficits were observed in any of these transgenic mice. We therefore conclude that Merlin does not regulate overall cerebellar development, but impacts on pre- and post-synaptic terminal organization.
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