Deletion of CASK in mice is lethal and impairs synaptic function.
CASK is an evolutionarily conserved multidomain protein composed of an N-terminal Ca2+/calmodulin-kinase domain, central PDZ and SH3 domains, and a C-terminal guanylate kinase domain. Many potential activities for CASK have been suggested, including functions in scaffolding the synapse, in organizing ion channels, and in regulating neuronal gene transcription. To better define the physiological importance of CASK, we have now analyzed CASK "knockdown" mice in which CASK expression was suppressed by approximately 70%, and CASK knockout (KO) mice, in which CASK expression was abolished. CASK knockdown mice are viable but smaller than WT mice, whereas CASK KO mice die at first day after birth. CASK KO mice exhibit no major developmental abnormalities apart from a partially penetrant cleft palate syndrome. In CASK-deficient neurons, the levels of the CASK-interacting proteins Mints, Veli/Mals, and neurexins are decreased, whereas the level of neuroligin 1 (which binds to neurexins that in turn bind to CASK) is increased. Neurons lacking CASK display overall normal electrical properties and form ultrastructurally normal synapses. However, glutamatergic spontaneous synaptic release events are increased, and GABAergic synaptic release events are decreased in CASK-deficient neurons. In contrast to spontaneous neurotransmitter release, evoked release exhibited no major changes. Our data suggest that CASK, the only member of the membrane-associated guanylate kinase protein family that contains a Ca2+/calmodulin-dependent kinase domain, is required for mouse survival and performs a selectively essential function without being in itself required for core activities of neurons, such as membrane excitability, Ca2+-triggered presynaptic release, or postsynaptic receptor functions.
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