Honors & Awards

  • Postdoctoral Research Fellowship, American Heart Association (2011-2013)
  • Career Transition Award (K99), National Institute of Mental Health (4/1/14-current)

Professional Education

  • Doctor of Philosophy, University of California Berkeley (2009)

Stanford Advisors


All Publications

  • Presynaptic Neurexin-3 Alternative Splicing trans-Synaptically Controls Postsynaptic AMPA Receptor Trafficking CELL Aoto, J., Martinelli, D. C., Malenka, R. C., Tabuchi, K., Suedhof, T. C. 2013; 154 (1): 75-88


    Neurexins are essential presynaptic cell adhesion molecules that are linked to schizophrenia and autism and are subject to extensive alternative splicing. Here, we used a genetic approach to test the physiological significance of neurexin alternative splicing. We generated knockin mice in which alternatively spliced sequence #4 (SS4) of neuexin-3 is constitutively included but can be selectively excised by cre-recombination. SS4 of neurexin-3 was chosen because it is highly regulated and controls neurexin binding to neuroligins, LRRTMs, and other ligands. Unexpectedly, constitutive inclusion of SS4 in presynaptic neurexin-3 decreased postsynaptic AMPA, but not NMDA receptor levels, and enhanced postsynaptic AMPA receptor endocytosis. Moreover, constitutive inclusion of SS4 in presynaptic neurexin-3 abrogated postsynaptic AMPA receptor recruitment during NMDA receptor-dependent LTP. These phenotypes were fully rescued by constitutive excision of SS4 in neurexin-3. Thus, alternative splicing of presynaptic neurexin-3 controls postsynaptic AMPA receptor trafficking, revealing an unanticipated alternative splicing mechanism for trans-synaptic regulation of synaptic strength and long-term plasticity.

    View details for DOI 10.1016/j.cell.2013.05.060

    View details for Web of Science ID 000321327900011

    View details for PubMedID 23827676

  • Candidate autism gene screen identifies critical role for cell-adhesion molecule CASPR2 in dendritic arborization and spine development PROCEEDINGS OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA Anderson, G. R., Galfin, T., Xu, W., Aoto, J., Malenka, R. C., Suedhof, T. C. 2012; 109 (44): 18120-18125


    Mutations in the contactin-associated protein 2 (CNTNAP2) gene encoding CASPR2, a neurexin-related cell-adhesion molecule, predispose to autism, but the function of CASPR2 in neural circuit assembly remains largely unknown. In a knockdown survey of autism candidate genes, we found that CASPR2 is required for normal development of neural networks. RNAi-mediated knockdown of CASPR2 produced a cell-autonomous decrease in dendritic arborization and spine development in pyramidal neurons, leading to a global decline in excitatory and inhibitory synapse numbers and a decrease in synaptic transmission without a detectable change in the properties of these synapses. Our data suggest that in addition to the previously described role of CASPR2 in mature neurons, where CASPR2 organizes nodal microdomains of myelinated axons, CASPR2 performs an earlier organizational function in developing neurons that is essential for neural circuit assembly and operates coincident with the time of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) pathogenesis.

    View details for DOI 10.1073/pnas.1216398109

    View details for Web of Science ID 000311149900087

    View details for PubMedID 23074245

  • Conditional RARa knockout mice reveal acute requirement for retinoic acid and RARa in homeostatic plasticity. Frontiers in molecular neuroscience Sarti, F., Schroeder, J., Aoto, J., Chen, L. 2012; 5: 16-?


    All-trans retinoic acid (RA) plays important roles in brain development through regulating gene transcription. Recently, a novel post-developmental role of RA in mature brain was proposed. Specifically, RA rapidly enhanced excitatory synaptic transmission independent of transcriptional regulation. RA synthesis was induced when excitatory synaptic transmission was chronically blocked, and RA then activated dendritic protein synthesis and synaptic insertion of homomeric GluA1 AMPA receptors, thereby compensating for the loss of neuronal activity in a homeostatic fashion. This action of RA was suggested to be mediated by its canonical receptor RAR? but no genetic evidence was available. Thus, we here tested the fundamental requirement of RAR? in homeostatic plasticity using conditional RAR? knockout (KO) mice, and additionally performed a structure-function analysis of RAR?. We show that acutely deleting RAR? in neurons eliminated RA's effect on excitatory synaptic transmission, and inhibited activity blockade-induced homeostatic synaptic plasticity. By expressing various RAR? rescue constructs in RAR? KO neurons, we found that the DNA-binding domain of RAR? was dispensable for its role in regulating synaptic strength, further supporting the notion that RA and RAR? act in a non-transcriptional manner in this context. By contrast, the ligand-binding domain (LBD) and the mRNA-binding domain (F-domain) are both necessary and sufficient for the function of RAR? in homeostatic plasticity. Furthermore, we found that homeostatic regulation performed by the LBD/F-domains leads to insertion of calcium-permeable AMPA receptors. Our results confirm with unequivocal genetic approaches that RA and RAR? perform essential non-transcriptional functions in regulating synaptic strength, and establish a functional link between the various domains of RAR? and their involvement in regulating protein synthesis and excitatory synaptic transmission during homeostatic plasticity.

    View details for DOI 10.3389/fnmol.2012.00016

    View details for PubMedID 22419906

  • Conditional RAR alpha knockout mice reveal acute requirement for retinoic acid and RAR alpha in homeostatic plasticity FRONTIERS IN MOLECULAR NEUROSCIENCE Sarti, F., Schroeder, J., Aoto, J., Chen, L. 2012; 5
  • Synaptic Signaling by All-Trans Retinoic Acid in Homeostatic Synaptic Plasticity NEURON Aoto, J., Nam, C. I., Poon, M. M., Ting, P., Chen, L. 2008; 60 (2): 308-320


    Normal brain function requires that the overall synaptic activity in neural circuits be kept constant. Long-term alterations of neural activity lead to homeostatic regulation of synaptic strength by a process known as synaptic scaling. The molecular mechanisms underlying synaptic scaling are largely unknown. Here, we report that all-trans retinoic acid (RA), a well-known developmental morphogen, unexpectedly mediates synaptic scaling in response to activity blockade. We show that activity blockade increases RA synthesis in neurons and that acute RA treatment enhances synaptic transmission. The RA-induced increase in synaptic strength is occluded by activity blockade-induced synaptic scaling. Suppression of RA synthesis prevents synaptic scaling. This form of RA signaling operates via a translation-dependent but transcription-independent mechanism, causes an upregulation of postsynaptic glutamate receptor levels, and requires RARalpha receptors. Together, our data suggest that RA functions in homeostatic plasticity as a signaling molecule that increases synaptic strength by a protein synthesis-dependent mechanism.

    View details for DOI 10.1016/j.neuron.2008.08.012

    View details for Web of Science ID 000260549300013

    View details for PubMedID 18957222

  • Retinoic acid regulates RAR alpha-mediated control of translation in dendritic RNA granules during homeostatic synaptic plasticity PROCEEDINGS OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA Maghsoodi, B., Poon, M. M., Nam, C. I., Aoto, J., Ting, P., Chen, L. 2008; 105 (41): 16015-16020


    Homeostatic plasticity is thought to play an important role in maintaining the stability of neuronal circuits. During one form of homeostatic plasticity, referred to as synaptic scaling, activity blockade leads to a compensatory increase in synaptic transmission by stimulating in dendrites the local translation and synaptic insertion of the AMPA receptor subunit GluR1. We have previously shown that all-trans retinoic acid (RA) mediates activity blockade-induced synaptic scaling by activating dendritic GluR1 synthesis and that this process requires RARalpha, a member of the nuclear RA receptor family. This result raised the question of where RARalpha is localized in dendrites and whether its localization is regulated by RA and/or activity blockade. Here, we show that activity blockade or RA treatment in neurons enhances the concentration of RARalpha in the dendritic RNA granules and activates local GluR1 synthesis in these RNA granules. Importantly, the same RNA granules that contain RARalpha also exhibit an accumulation of GluR1 protein but with a much slower time course than that of RARalpha, suggesting that the former regulates the latter. Taken together, our results provide a direct link between dendritically localized RARalpha and local GluR1 synthesis in RNA granules during RA-mediated synaptic signaling in homeostatic synaptic plasticity.

    View details for DOI 10.1073/pnas.0804801105

    View details for Web of Science ID 000260240900067

    View details for PubMedID 18840692

  • Bidirectional ephrin/Eph signaling in synaptic functions BRAIN RESEARCH Aoto, J., Chen, L. 2007; 1184: 72-80


    Eph receptors, the largest family of receptor tyrosine kinases, and their membrane bound ligands, the ephrins, are involved in multiple developmental and adult processes within and outside of the nervous system. Bi-directional signaling from both the receptor and the ligand is initiated by ephrin-Eph binding upon cell-cell contact, and involves interactions with distinct subsets of downstream signaling molecules related to specific functions. In the CNS, Ephs and ephrins act as attractive/repulsive, migratory and cell adhesive cues during development and participate in synaptic functions in adult animals. In this review, we will focus on recent findings highlighting the functions of ephrin/Eph signaling in dendritic spine morphogenesis, synapse formation and synaptic plasticity.

    View details for DOI 10.1016/j.brainres.2006.11.033

    View details for Web of Science ID 000252096600009

    View details for PubMedID 17166489

  • Postsynaptic EphrinB3 promotes shaft glutamatergic synapse formation JOURNAL OF NEUROSCIENCE Aoto, J., Ting, P., Maghsoodi, B., Xu, N., Henkemeyer, M., Chen, L. 2007; 27 (28): 7508-7519


    Excitatory synapses in the CNS are formed on both dendritic spines and shafts. Recent studies show that the density of shaft synapses may be independently regulated by behavioral learning and the induction of synaptic plasticity, suggesting that distinct mechanisms are involved in regulating these two types of synapses. Although the molecular mechanisms underlying spinogenesis and spine synapse formation are being delineated, those regulating shaft synapses are still unknown. Here, we show that postsynaptic ephrinB3 expression promotes the formation of glutamatergic synapses specifically on the shafts, not on spines. Reducing or increasing postsynaptic ephrinB3 expression selectively decreases or increases shaft synapse density, respectively. In the ephrinB3 knock-out mouse, although spine synapses are normal, shaft synapse formation is reduced in the hippocampus. Overexpression of glutamate receptor-interacting protein 1 (GRIP1) rescues ephrinB3 knockdown phenotype by restoring shaft synapse density. GRIP1 knockdown prevents the increase in shaft synapse density induced by ephrinB3 overexpression. Together, our results reveal a novel mechanism for independent modulation of shaft synapses through ephrinB3 reverse signaling.

    View details for DOI 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0705-07.2007

    View details for Web of Science ID 000248147900016

    View details for PubMedID 17626212

  • Cell-autonomous notch signaling regulates endothelial cell branching and proliferation during vascular tubulogenesis. FASEB journal Sainson, R. C., Aoto, J., Nakatsu, M. N., Holderfield, M., Conn, E., Koller, E., Hughes, C. C. 2005; 19 (8): 1027-1029


    The requirement for notch signaling during vascular development is well-documented but poorly understood. Embryonic and adult endothelial cells (EC) express notch and notch ligands; however, the necessity for cell-autonomous notch signaling during angiogenesis has not been determined. During angiogenesis, EC display plasticity, whereby a subset of previously quiescent cells loses polarity and becomes migratory. To investigate the role of notch in EC, we have used a three-dimensional in vitro system that models all of the early steps of angiogenesis. We find that newly forming sprouts are composed of specialized tip cells that guide the sprout and trunk cells that proliferate and rearrange to form intercellular lumens. Furthermore, we find that notch acts cell-autonomously to suppress EC proliferation, thereby regulating tube diameter. In addition, when notch signaling is blocked, tip cells divide, and both daughter cells take on a tip cell phenotype, resulting in increased branching through vessel bifurcation. In contrast, notch signaling is not required for re-establishment of EC polarity or for lumen formation. Thus, notch is used reiteratively and cell-autonomously by EC to regulate vessel diameter, to limit branching at the tip of sprouts, and to establish a mature, quiescent phenotype.

    View details for PubMedID 15774577

  • Cell-autonomous notch signaling regulates endothelial cell branching and proliferation during vascular tubulogenesis FASEB JOURNAL Sainson, R. C., Aoto, J., Nakatsu, M. N., Holderfield, M., Conn, E., Koller, E., Hughes, C. C. 2005; 19 (3): 1027-?
  • VEGF(121) and VEGF(165) regulate blood vessel diameter through vascular endothelial growth fact or receptor 2 in an in vitro angiogenesis model LABORATORY INVESTIGATION Nakatsu, M. N., Sainson, R. C., Perez-dei-Pulgar, S., Aoto, J. N., Aitkenhead, M., Taylor, K. L., Carpenter, P. M., Hughes, C. C. 2003; 83 (12): 1873-1885


    Vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) is essential for the induction of angiogenesis and drives both endothelial cell (EC) proliferation and migration. It has been suggested that VEGF also regulates vessel diameter, although this has not been tested explicitly. The two most abundant isoforms, VEGF(121) and VEGF(165), both signal through VEGF receptor 2 (VEGFR-2). We recently optimized a three-dimensional in vitro angiogenesis assay using HUVECs growing on Cytodex beads and embedded in fibrin gels. Fibroblasts provide critical factors that promote sprouting, lumen formation, and vessel stability. Using this assay, we have examined the role of VEGF in setting vessel diameter. Low concentrations of both VEGF(121) and VEGF(165) promote growth of long, thin vessels, whereas higher concentrations of VEGF remarkably enhance vessel diameter. Placental growth factor, which binds to VEGFR-1 but not VEGFR-2, does not promote capillary sprouting. Moreover, specific inhibition of VEGFR-2 signaling results in a dramatic reduction of EC sprouting in response to VEGF, indicating the critical importance of this receptor. The increase in vessel diameter is the result of cell proliferation and migration, rather than cellular hypertrophy, and likely depends on MEK1-ERK1/2 signaling. Both phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase and p38 activity are required for cell survival. We conclude that the diameter of new capillary sprouts can be determined by the local concentration of VEGF and that the action of VEGF on angiogenic EC in this assay is critically dependent on signaling through VEGFR-2.

    View details for DOI 10.1097/01.LAB.0000107160.81875.33

    View details for Web of Science ID 000187673800020

    View details for PubMedID 14691306

  • Angiogenic sprouting and capillary lumen formation modeled by human umbilical vein endothelial cells (HUVEC) in fibrin gels: the role of fibroblasts and Angiopoietin-1 MICROVASCULAR RESEARCH Nakatsu, M. N., Sainson, R. C., Aoto, J. N., Taylor, K. L., Aitkenhead, M., Perez-del-Pulgar, S., Carpenter, P. M., Hughes, C. C. 2003; 66 (2): 102-112


    Angiogenesis is a multistep process of critical importance both in development and in physiological and pathophysiological processes in the adult. It involves endothelial cell (EC) sprouting from the parent vessel, followed by migration, proliferation, alignment, tube formation, and anastomosis to other vessels. Several in vitro models have attempted to recreate this complex sequence of events with varying degrees of success. We report an optimized protocol for human umbilical vein EC in which EC sprout from the surface of beads embedded in fibrin gels. Fibroblast-derived factors, other than Angiopoietin-1, promote sprouting, lumen formation, and long-term stability of neovessels. Analysis by time-lapse and still photomicroscopy demonstrates dynamic vessels guided by a "tip cell" that extends numerous processes into the gel. Behind this cell a lumen forms, surrounded by a single layer of polarized EC. The growing sprouts express notch 1, notch 4, and delta 4, as well as the downstream notch effector HESR-1. Importantly, cells can be infected with adenovirus to high efficiency without compromising sprout formation, thus allowing for manipulation of gene expression. This improved model recapitulates all the major steps of angiogenesis seen in vivo and provides a powerful model for analysis of this complex phenomenon.

    View details for DOI 10.1016/S0026-2862(03)00045-1

    View details for Web of Science ID 000185050100004

    View details for PubMedID 12935768

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