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AbstractThe mammalian brain is the most structurally and functionally complex system in biology. In order to carry out diverse functions such as thought and cognition, neurons in the brain must properly differentiate, make millions of functional interconnections, and incredibly be able to maintain those interconnections while retaining plasticity and the ability to learn throughout its lifetime. In order for neurons to carry out these complex functions, they must have an intricate relationshipwith their extracellular environment, which provides numerous molecules, such as growth factors and neurotransmitters, and physical cues to initiate critical downstream signaling cascades. In the central nervous system (CNS), the neural extracellular matrix (ECM) largely organizes this extracellular environment, and as such, is implicated in a multitude of neuronal functions. Not only can it serve as a physical barrier, the neural ECM is shown to regulate neuronal cell differentiation, migration, synaptogenesis, and maintain the mature state by restricting plasticity and neurite outgrowth. Of particular import, a subset of the neural ECM, the perineuronal net (PNN), is implicated to regulate neuronal plasticity in the CNS. PNNs were historically believed to be critical for restricting experience dependent plasticity in the brain but more recently shown to regulate several forms of learning and memory, in addition to multiple neurological diseases. However, despite these implicated functions, PNNs comprise only a fraction of the total ECM in the CNS. A majority of the neural ECM is derived from the diffuse ECM, a structure that is ubiquitously expressed throughout the CNS. As the diffuse ECM is very similar in molecular composition and structure to PNNs, it is difficult to specifically target PNNs for functional and mechanistic studies.As such, a better toolset is needed to differentiate the contributions ivbetween PNNs and the diffuse ECM in regulating plasticity and learning and memory. To develop thistoolset, there is a great need to better understand PNN molecular composition and structure. Therefore, the purpose of this work was to provide critical insight into the molecular composition and structure of PNNs soas to better understand its function in the CNS. In Chapter 2, using multiple ECM genetic knockout models, we show compelling evidence of an additional PNN anchor that importantlylays the groundworkforfuture functional studies. Specifically, we suggestchondroitin sulfate proteoglycan (CSPG) phosphacan, secreted isoform of receptor protein tyrosine phosphatase zeta (RPTPÎ¶), iscritical for PNN structure as it partially anchors PNNs to the neuronal surface through cooperation with tenascin-R. Additionally, as the neural ECM is involved in numerous neurological diseases, in Chapter 3, we investigated the function of major ECM component, RPTPÎ¶, in a group of O-mannosyl related congenital muscular dystrophy with associated brain abnormalities (CMD). Our data suggest a possible role of RPTPÎ¶ in proper cortical lamination in a CMD mouse model. Interestingly, we found evidence of a novel O-mannosyl substrate in the developing brain that could critically contribute to the underlying deficits of CMD. In conclusion, the neural ECM, once previously disregarded in the field, is becoming a novel source to understand mature mammalian brain function and disease, but more work is needed to better differentiate the specific roles of its substructures.
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