The Golgi apparatus affects brain development

Summary: Researchers have revealed an essential mechanism in the process of dendritic refinement in neurons during early postnatal brain development.

The study, which focuses on the Golgi apparatus in rodent neurons, shows how this organelle interacts with the neurotransmitter receptor, NMDAR, to shape neural circuit organization. This process is fundamental to brain development and functionality.

The discovery has shed new light on the largely overlooked role of subcellular structures in neuronal circuit reorganization.

Key Facts:

  1. The location of the Golgi apparatus in a neuron, known as Golgi polarity, plays a crucial role in the refinement of dendrites, part of the neuronal circuit organization.
  2. Neuronal activity, signaled by the neurotransmitter receptor NMDAR, is necessary for the lateral polarization of the Golgi apparatus, which instructs proper dendritic refinement.
  3. Disruption of either NMDAR signaling or Golgi polarity leads to inappropriate changes in dendrite shape and orientation.

Source: Research Organization of information and systems

Neurons are the cells that make up neural circuits and use chemicals and electricity to receive and send messages that allow the body to do everything, including thinking, sensing, moving and more.

Neurons have a long fiber called an axon that sends information to subsequent neurons. Information from axons is received by branch-like structures that fan out from the cell body, called dendrites.

Dendritic refinement is an important part of early postnatal brain development, where dendrites are tailored to make specific connections with appropriate axons.

This shows neurons.
Signals from the NMDAR are necessary for the lateral Golgi polarization, which in turn instructs the correct dendritic refinement. Credit: Neuroscience News

In a recently published paper, researchers present evidence showing how a mechanism in the neurons of a rodent involving the Golgi apparatus initiates dendritic refinement by means of the neuronal activity received by a receptor of a neurotransmitter called N-methyl-D- aspartate-type glutamate receptor (NMDAR).

The newspaper was published in Cell reports .

“We wanted to find the cellular mechanism underlying activity-dependent neuronal circuit reorganization during early postnatal brain development,” said Naoki Nakagawa, an assistant professor at the National Institute of Genetics in Shizouka, Japan.

“The potential contribution of the dynamics of subcellular structures, such as organelles, to this process has been largely overlooked.”

The organelle in question is the Golgi apparatus, which acts as a hub for the transport of materials inside the cell. The location of the Golgi apparatus in a cell generates cell polarity by determining the direction of intracellular transport.

“Golgi-mediated cell polarity has been known to play an important role in earlier embryonic developmental events, such as mitosis, migration and differentiation of cells,” Nakagawa said.

“However, during the postnatal critical period of circuit reorganization, we did not know whether Golgi polarity is altered by neuronal activity or whether the Golgi polarity change contributes to the remodeling of neuronal circuits.”

To understand the role of Golgi polarity in dendritic refinement, researchers studied spiny stellate neurons in rodents. These neurons are found in a part of the rodent brain called the barrel cortex, which processes tactile information from whiskers. Spiny stellate neurons in the barrel cortex have asymmetric dendrites facing the center of the barrel.

This unique dendritic structure is established during the first week after birth through refinement based on neuronal activity. To trace the location of the Golgi apparatus during postnatal development, the Golgi-targeted fluorescent protein was expressed in spiny stellate neurons.

In the first few days of life, the Golgi apparatus in spiny stellate cells became apically polarized during postnatal days 1 to 3, but ended laterally polarized toward the barrel center by postnatal day 5.

By day 15, when the asymmetric dendrite pattern was already established, the lateral polarization decreased. Researchers also looked at the location of the Golgi apparatus in the dendrites.

Dendrites that contained Golgi apparatuses at or near the base were longer and more branched than dendrites that did not.

Signals from the NMDAR are necessary for the lateral Golgi polarization, which in turn instructs the correct dendritic refinement.

These were evident when researchers disrupted NMDAR signaling, or Golgi polarity. In both cases, the shape and direction of the dendrites changed in an inappropriate way.

Looking ahead, researchers want to uncover more about how the Golgi apparatus affects neuronal development.

“We want to know how the neuronal activity moves the Golgi apparatus to the right positions in neurons and how the Golgi polarization enables the correct patterning of neuronal dendrites,” Nakagawa said.

“We believe that tackling these questions will provide a better understanding of what happens in neurons during postnatal development and how it promotes circuit reorganization, which is an essential step for engineering sophisticated neuronal circuits in the brain.”

About this neuroscience research news

Author: Press office
Source: Research Organization of information and systems
Contact: Press office – Research organization of information and systems
Image: Image credited to Neuroscience News

Original Research: Open access.
Golgi polarity switching directs dendritic refinement in the neonatal cortex by mediating NMDA receptor signaling” by Naoki Nakagawa et al. Cell reports


Golgi polarity switching directs dendritic refinement in the neonatal cortex by mediating NMDA receptor signaling


  • In neonatal barrel cortex, L4 SS cells show apical-to-lateral Golgi polarity shifts
  • The lateral Golgi polarity is high only during the critical period of dendritic refinement
  • Lateral Golgi polarity is induced by postsynaptic NMDAR activity
  • Lateral Golgi polarity instructs dendritic refinement for high response specificity


Dendritic refinement is a critical component of activity-dependent neuronal circuit maturation, through which individual neurons establish specific connectivity with their target axons.

Here we demonstrate that the developmental switch of Golgi polarity is a key process in dendritic refinement.

During neonatal development, the Golgi apparatus of layer 4 spiny stellate (SS) neurons in mouse barrel cortex lose their original apical positioning and acquire laterally polarized distributions.

This lateral Golgi polarity, which is oriented toward the barrel center, peaks at postnatal days 5–7 (P5–P7) and disappears by P15, consistent with the developmental course of SS neuron dendritic refinement.

Genetic ablation of N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptors, key players in dendritic refinement, disrupts lateral Golgi polarity. Golgi polarity manipulation disrupts the asymmetric dendritic projection pattern and the primary-whisker-specific response of SS neurons.

Our findings illuminate activity-dependent Golgi dynamics and their critical role in developing neuronal circuit refinement.

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