δ-Protocadherin Function: From Molecular Adhesion Properties to Brain Circuitry

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Institution Granting Degree

The Ohio State University

Cedarville University School or Department

Science and Mathematics

First Advisor

Dr. James Jontes, Advisor

Second Advisor

Dr. Marcos Sotomayor, Co-advisor


δ-Protocadherin function, brain circuitry


Selective cell-to-cell adhesion is essential for normal development of the vertebrate brain, contributing to coordinated cell movements, regional partitioning and synapse formation. Members of the cadherin superfamily mediate calcium-dependent cell adhesion, and selective adhesion by various family members is thought to contribute to the development of neural circuitry. Members of the δ-protocadherin subfamily of cadherins are differentially expressed in the vertebrate nervous system and have been implicated in a range of neurodevelopmental disorders: schizophrenia, mental retardation, and epilepsy. However, little is known about how the δ- protocadherins contribute to the development of the nervous system, nor how this development is disrupted in the disease state. Here I focus on one member of the δ-protocadherin family, protocadherin-19 (pcdh19), since it has the clearest link to a neurodevelopmental disease, being the second most clinically relevant gene in epilepsy. Using pcdh19 transgenic zebrafish, we observed columnar modules of pcdh19-expresing cells in the optic tectum. In the absence of Pcdh19, the columnar organization is disrupted and visually guided behaviors are impaired. Furthermore, similar columns were observed in pcdh1a transgenic zebrafish, located both in the tectum and in other brain regions. This suggests protocadherin defined columns may be a theme of neural development. iii Our X-ray crystal structure of Pcdh19 reveals the adhesion interface for Pcdh19 and infers the molecular consequences of epilepsy causing mutations. We found several epilepsy causing mutations were located at the interface and disrupted adhesion, which further validated the interface and revealed a possible biochemical cause of Pcdh19 dysfunction. Furthermore, sequence alignments of other δ-protocadherins with Pcdh19 suggest that this interface may be relevant to the entire δ-protocadherin subfamily. We used the information gained about Pcdh19 to design PCDH19-FE mutations in the genome of zebrafish for comparing the circuitry of embryos with wild-type pcdh19, non-adhesive pcdh19 or without pcdh19. The combination of in vitro adhesion studies and in vivo brain imaging analysis provides a more comprehensive understanding of protocadherin-19 function, and suggests a broader role for the δ- protocadherin family in differential adhesion during brain development.