Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department

Molecular Pharmacology and Physiology

Major Professor

Paul E. Gottschall, Ph.D.


Neurite outgrowth, Dendritic spine, Proteoglycan, Extracellular matrix, Protease


Aggregating proteoglycans (PG) bearing chondroitin sulfate (CS) side chains are well-known inhibitors of neural plasticity and associate with hyaluronan and tenascin-R to form a complex of extracellular matrix (ECM) in the central nervous system (CNS). Little is known about whether proteolytic cleavage of the core protein affects neural plasticity. Several members of the ADAMTS (a disintegrin and metalloproteinase with thrombospondin motifs) family of metalloproteinases are glutamyl-endopeptidases that cleave aggregating PGs. Our initial studies determined that neural cultures secrete a brevican-containing matrix, and that these neural cultures also produced ADAMTS4, a protease that cleaves brevican. Furthermore, this brevican-containing matrix in astrocytes could be modulated by treatment with transforming growth factor beta (TGFbeta) through the inhibition of the activity of the ADAMTSs.Once it was established that neural cultures produce a brevican-rich matrix, we s

ought to utilize this matrix to determine whether cleavage of aggregating PGs, especially brevican, by the ADAMTSs influences neurite outgrowth in cultured neurons. Transfection of rat neurons with ADAMTS4 cDNA induced longer neurites, and interestingly, this effect proved to be independent of the proteolytic action of the ADAMTSs. Addition of recombinant ADAMTS4 or ADAMTS5 protein to immature neuronal cultures similarly enhanced neurite extension, an action dependent on the activation of extracellular signal-related kinase (ERK)1/2 (MAP kinase 42/44), resulting in the first evidence that ADAMTSs may induce intracellular signaling events. Studies of dendritic spine morphology and levels of synaptic proteins in response to ADAMTS4 treatment were also undertaken. Neuronal cultures treated with ADAMTS4 showed increased length of dendritic spines and increased percent of immature spines detected. A concurrent decrease in post-synaptic protein staining was detected on the neurites of yo

ung neurons overexpressing ADAMTS4 or expressing proteolytically-inactive mutant ADAMTS4 protein. Thus, ADAMTS4 may promote plasticity in neurons in vitro by preventing the formation, maturation, and/or stabilization of synapses. Overall, these experiments provide evidence that implicate the ADAMTSs as mediators of neural plasticity, and while primarily known only as proteases, these studies demonstrate that the ADAMTSs exert actions distinct from these proteolytic properties that require the induction of intracellular signaling events.