The size and structure of the dendritic arbor play important roles in determining how synaptic inputs of neurons are converted to action potential output. The regulatory mechanisms governing the development of dendrites, however, are insufficiently understood. The evolutionary conserved Ste20/Hippo kinase pathway has been proposed to play an important role in regulating the formation and maintenance of dendritic architecture. A key element of this pathway, Ste20-like kinase (SLK), regulates cytoskeletal dynamics in non-neuronal cells and is strongly expressed throughout neuronal development. However, its function in neurons is unknown. We show that during development of mouse cortical neurons, SLK has a surprisingly specific role for proper elaboration of higher order dendrites. Moreover, we demonstrate that SLK is required to maintain excitation-inhibition balance. Specifically, SLK knockdown caused a selective loss of inhibitory synapses and functional inhibition after postnatal day 15, while excitatory neurotransmission was unaffected. Finally, we show that this mechanism may be relevant for human disease, as dysmorphic neurons within human cortical malformations revealed significant loss of SLK expression. Overall, the present data identify SLK as a key regulator of both dendritic complexity during development and of inhibitory synapse maintenance.
bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience