The monomeric GTP-binding protein p21Ras has been repeatedly implicated in neuronal stability and plastic changes of the adult nervous system. Recently, we have shown that expression of constitutively active Ras protein in transgenic synRas mice results in a significant increase in the dendritic size and complexity of differentiated pyramidal neurons as well as in increased synaptic connectivity. In the present study, we examined the organization of the vibrissae-barrel cortex in synRas mice and the effects of enhanced Ras activity on deprivation-induced dendritic reorganization after vibrissectomy. The results demonstrate a significant increase in vibrissae-barrel sizes and proportional spacing between barrels in synRas mice, suggesting that the neuronal target specificity of thalamocortical terminals is preserved. Accordingly, the arrangement of double bouquet cells at the borders of barrel columns ensuring functional distinctness is unchanged. Partial vibrissectomy is followed by significant dendritic regression of corresponding pyramidal neurons in the barrel cortex of wild-type mice, which, however, could not be observed in synRas mice. The results provide the first evidence for a role of Ras in preserving neuronal structure after functional deprivation in vivo.
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