Cbln1, a member of the C1q and tumor necrosis factor superfamily, plays crucial roles as a cerebellar granule cell-derived transneuronal regulator of synapse integrity and plasticity in Purkinje cells. Although other Cbln family members, Cbln2-Cbln4, have distinct spatial and temporal patterns of expression throughout the CNS, their biochemical and biological properties have remained largely uncharacterized. Here, we demonstrated that in mammalian heterologous cells, Cbln2 and Cbln4 were secreted as N-linked glycoproteins, like Cbln1. In contrast, despite the presence of a functional signal sequence, Cbln3 was not secreted when expressed alone but was retained in the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) or cis-Golgi because of its N-terminal domain. All members of the Cbln family formed not only homomeric but also heteromeric complexes with each other in vitro. Accordingly, when Cbln1 and Cbln3 were co-expressed in heterologous cells, a proportion of the Cbln1 proteins was retained in the ER or cis-Golgi; conversely, some Cbln3 proteins were secreted together with Cbln1. Similarly, in wild-type granule cells expressing Cbln1 and Cbln3, Cbln3 proteins were partially secreted and reached postsynaptic sites on Purkinje cell dendrites, while Cbln3 was almost completely degraded in cbln1-null granule cells. These results indicate that like Cbln1, Cbln2 and Cbln4 may also serve as transneuronal regulators of synaptic functions in various brain regions. Furthermore, heteromer formation between Cbln1 and Cbln3 in cerebellar granule cells may modulate each other's trafficking and signaling pathways; similarly, heteromerization of other Cbln family proteins may also have biological significance in other neurons.
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