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SUMO, E:I balance, inhibitory, synapse, presynaptic, Caenorhabditis elegans


Regulation of excitatory to inhibitory signaling balance is essential to nervous system health and is maintained by numerous enzyme systems that modulate the activity, localization, and abundance of synaptic proteins. SUMOylation is a key post-translational regulator of protein function in diverse cells, including neurons. There, its role in regulating synaptic transmission through pre- and postsynaptic effects has been shown primarily at glutamatergic central nervous system synapses, where the sole SUMO-conjugating enzyme Ubc9 is a critical player. However, whether Ubc9 functions globally at other synapses, including inhibitory synapses, has not been explored. Here, we investigated the role of UBC-9 and the SUMOylation pathway in controlling the balance of excitatory cholinergic and inhibitory GABAergic signaling required for muscle contraction in Caenorhabditis elegans. We found inhibition or overexpression of UBC-9 in neurons modestly increased muscle excitation. Similar and even stronger phenotypes were seen with UBC-9 overexpression specifically in GABAergic neurons, but not in cholinergic neurons. These effects correlated with accumulation of synaptic vesicle-associated proteins at GABAergic presynapses, where UBC-9 and the C. elegans SUMO ortholog SMO-1 localized, and with defects in GABA-dependent behaviors. Experiments involving expression of catalytically inactive UBC-9 [UBC-9(C93S)], as well as co-expression of UBC-9 and SMO-1, suggested wild type UBC-9 overexpressed alone may act via substrate sequestration in the absence of sufficient free SUMO, underscoring the importance of tightly regulated SUMO enzyme function. Similar effects on muscle excitation, GABAergic signaling, and synaptic vesicle localization occurred with overexpression of the SUMO activating enzyme subunit AOS-1. Together, these data support a model in which UBC-9 and the SUMOylation system act at presynaptic sites in inhibitory motor neurons to control synaptic signaling balance in C. elegans. Future studies will be important to define UBC-9 targets at this synapse, as well as mechanisms by which UBC-9 and the SUMO pathway are regulated.


Originally published by Neuroscience Insights under a Creative Commons 4.0 in Neuroscience Insights, 2020, Volume 15, Issue 1. DOI: 10.1177/2633105520962792.