Arrested Glutamatergic Synapse Development in Human Partial Epilepsy
While studying the brain function of the human partial epilepsy gene, leucine-rich glioma-inactivated 1 (LGI1), a new mechanism of human epileptogenesis was revealed—persistent immaturity of glutamatergic circuitries. LGI1, a novel secreted protein, was found to be increased during the postnatal period; when glutamatergic synapses both downregulate their presynaptic vesicular release probability and reduce their postsynaptic NMDA-receptor subunit NR2B. During this same period, the dendritic arbor and spines are pruned and remodeled. Using bacterial artificial chromosome transgenic mouse techniques, excess wild-type LGI1 was shown to magnify these critical brain developmental events in the hippocampal dentate gyrus; while an epilepsy-associated, truncated, dominant-negative form of LGI1 blocked them. By contrast, the hippocampal dentate granule neuron GABAergic synapses and intrinsic excitability were unaltered. A role for LGI1 in downregulating glutamate synapse function was confirmed by germline gene deletion; this intervention also revealed a selective increase of glutamatergic synaptic transmission with unaltered GABAergic synapses and intrinsic excitability of hippocampal CA1 pyramidal neurons. Interestingly, the role of LGI1 in neurological disease was further expanded when a subset of patients with limbic encephalitis (an autoimmune disorder with memory loss in 100% and seizures in 80% of individuals) were discovered to carry autoantibodies to LGI1.