Disabled-1 (Dab1) is an adaptor protein that is an obligate effector of the Reelin signaling pathway, and is critical for neuronal migration and dendrite outgrowth during development. Components of the Reelin pathway are highly expressed during development, but also continue to be expressed in the adult brain. Here we investigated in detail the expression pattern of Dab1 in the postnatal and adult forebrain, and determined that it is expressed in excitatory as well as inhibitory neurons. Dab1 was found to be localized in different cellular compartments, including the soma, dendrites, presynaptic and postsynaptic structures. Mice that are deficient in Dab1, Reelin, or the Reelin receptors ApoER2 and VLDLR exhibit severely perturbed brain cytoarchitecture, limiting the utility of these mice for investigating the role of this signaling pathway in the adult brain. In this study, we developed an adult forebrain-specific and excitatory neuron-specific conditional knock-out mouse line, and demonstrated that Dab1 is a critical regulator of synaptic function and hippocampal-dependent associative and spatial learning. These dramatic abnormalities were accompanied by a reduction in dendritic spine size, and defects in basal and plasticity-induced Akt and ERK1/2 signaling. Deletion of Dab1 led to no obvious changes in neuronal positioning, dendrite morphology, spine density, or synaptic composition. Collectively, these data conclusively demonstrate an important role for Reelin-Dab1 signaling in the adult forebrain, and underscore the importance of this pathway in learning and memory.
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