Insulin receptor signaling has been postulated to play a role in synaptic plasticity; however, the function of the insulin receptor in CNS is not clear. To test whether insulin receptor signaling affects visual system function, we recorded light-evoked responses in optic tectal neurons in living Xenopus tadpoles. Tectal neurons transfected with dominant-negative insulin receptor (dnIR), which reduces insulin receptor phosphorylation, or morpholino against insulin receptor, which reduces total insulin receptor protein level, have significantly smaller light-evoked responses than controls. dnIR-expressing neurons have reduced synapse density as assessed by EM, decreased AMPA mEPSC frequency, and altered experience-dependent dendritic arbor structural plasticity, although synaptic vesicle release probability, assessed by paired-pulse responses, synapse maturation, assessed by AMPA/NMDA ratio and ultrastructural criteria, are unaffected by dnIR expression. These data indicate that insulin receptor signaling regulates circuit function and plasticity by controlling synapse density.
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