Dysfunction of the ubiquitin proteasome system (UPS) has been implicated in the pathogenesis of many neurological diseases, including Alzheimer's, spinocerebellar ataxia, and several motor neuron diseases. Recent research indicates that changes in synaptic transmission mayplay a critical role in the progression of neurological disease; however, the mechanisms by which the UPS regulates synaptic structure and function have not been well characterized. In this report, we show that Usp14 is indispensable for synaptic development and function at neuromuscular junctions (NMJs). Usp14-deficient axJ mice display a resting tremor, a reduction in muscle mass, and notable hindlimb rigidity without any detectable loss of motor neurons. Instead, loss of Usp14 causes developmental defects at motor neuron endplates. Presynaptic defects include phosphorylated neurofilament accumulations, nerve terminal sprouting, and poor arborization of the motor nerve terminals, whereas postsynaptic acetylcholine receptors display immature plaque-like morphology. These structural changes in the NMJ correlated with ubiquitin loss in the spinal cord and sciatic nerve. Further studies demonstrated that the greatest loss of ubiquitin was found in synaptosomal fractions, suggesting that the endplate swellings may be caused by decreased protein turnover at the synapse. Transgenic restoration of Usp14 in the nervous system corrected the levels of monomeric ubiquitin in the motor neuron circuit and the defects that were observed in the motor endplates and muscles of the axJ mice. These data define a critical role for Usp14 at mammalian synapses and suggest a requirement for local ubiquitin recycling by the proteasome to control the development and function of NMJs.
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