Kavli Affiliate: Keri Martinowich
| Authors: Svitlana V Bach, Allison J Bauman, Darya Hosein, Jennifer J Tuscher, Lara Ianov, Kelsey M Greathouse, Benjamin W Henderson, Jeremy H. Herskowitz, Keri Martinowich and Jeremy J Day
Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (Bdnf) plays a critical role in brain development, dendritic growth, synaptic plasticity, as well as learning and memory. The rodent Bdnf gene contains nine 5′ non-coding exons (I-IXa), which are spliced to a common 3′ coding exon (IX). Transcription of individual Bdnf variants, which all encode the same BDNF protein, is initiated at unique promoters upstream of each non-coding exon, enabling precise spatiotemporal and activity-dependent regulation of Bdnf expression. Although prior evidence suggests that Bdnf transcripts containing exon I (Bdnf I) or exon IV (Bdnf IV) are uniquely regulated by neuronal activity, the functional significance of different Bdnf transcript variants remains unclear. To investigate functional roles of activity-dependent Bdnf I and IV transcripts, we used a CRISPR activation (CRISPRa) system in which catalytically-dead Cas9 (dCas9) fused to a transcriptional activator (VPR) is targeted to individual Bdnf promoters with single guide RNAs (sgRNAs), resulting in transcript-specific Bdnf upregulation. Bdnf I upregulation is associated with gene expression changes linked to dendritic growth, while Bdnf IV upregulation is associated with genes that regulate protein catabolism. Upregulation of Bdnf I, but not Bdnf IV, increased mushroom spine density, volume, length, and head diameter, and also produced more complex dendritic arbors in cultured rat hippocampal neurons. In contrast, upregulation of Bdnf IV, but not Bdnf I, in the rat hippocampus attenuated contextual fear expression. Our data suggest that while Bdnf I and IV are both activity-dependent, BDNF produced from these promoters may serve unique cellular, synaptic, and behavioral functions.