Cagla Eroglu

Cagla Eroglu, Ph.D. (European Molecular Biology Laboratories and University of Heidelberg)

Vice Chair of Research and
Professor of Cell Biology - Chancellor's Distinguished Professor of Cell Biology
Professor of Neurobiology
HHMI Investigator


333A Nanaline Duke Building, Box 3709
Duke University Medical Center
Durham, NC 27710

Telephone 919-684-3605
Fax 919-684-8090

Lab Site

Our laboratory is interested in understanding how central nervous system (CNS) synapses are formed. In the CNS, neurons make very specific connections with distant targets and establishment of these synaptic contacts are meticulously timed, demonstrating the presence of a complex control of synapse formation. However our knowledge on regulation of synaptogenesis is still limited.

      Synapses are essentially asymmetric cell adhesions. Since synapses in the CNS are formed between neurons, traditional studies in synapse formation primarily focuses on neuronal cell surface molecules. However in the last decade astrocytes, the most abundant cell type in the CNS, emerged as an important player in the formation of synapses.

      We are able to study the effect of astrocytes in synapse formation thanks to our retinal ganglion neuron culture system. Unlike many other primary neuronal culture systems, retinal ganglion cells (RGCs) can be isolated from rodent retina as a pure population and can be cultured in the absence of any other cell type, in a serum free well-defined culture media. Interestingly, RGCs cultured in the absence of astrocytes form very few synapses. In contrast, neurons cultured in the presence of astrocytes or astrocyte conditioned media form many synapses. This is due to the fact that astrocytes secrete factors that regulate synapse formation. We work to identify these factors and elucidate the molecular and cellular mechanisms by which astrocytes regulate synapse formation both in vitro and in vivo.

      Understanding synaptogenesis is crucial for understanding how our brains are sculpted during development, and how we learn and remember as adults.  In addition, knowledge on how synaptogenesis can go awry has important health implications for understanding the pathophysiology of diseases such as Alzheimer's disease, epilepsy, and drug addiction.

What are the secreted signals coming from astrocytes that regulate synapse formation?

Using our culture system we screen candidate secreted proteins for their role in synapse formation. Thrombospondin (TSP), a 450kDa extracellular matrix protein coming from astrocytes, has previously been shown to be sufficient and necessary for astrocyte-induced synapse formation in vitro. In addition, we have identified two other extracellular matrix proteins expressed by astrocytes that regulate synapse formation. Interestingly, one of these proteins is a negative regulator of synapse formation indicating that astrocytes not only provide positive but also negative cues for synaptogenesis. We are continuing to investigate the role of other astrocyte secreted factors in synapse formation and CNS development.

How do astrocyte-secreted factors lead to synapse formation?

To answer this question we are investigating the identity of the neuronal cell surface receptors for these astrocyte secreted signals and characterizing their mechanisms of action in synapse formation.

What is the role of astrocyte-induced synapse formation in development and maintenance of the CNS?

Since astrocytes secrete regulators of synapse formation, they might play important roles in the development and function of the CNS. The expression of Thrombospondins and several other astrocyte-secreted factors are developmentally regulated and their expression coincides with the synaptogenic period of the brain. In addition, astrocytes have been implicated to play an important role in the regulation of the developmental synaptic plasticity. Using knockout mice and inhibitors of astrocyte induced synapse formation we study different developmental plasticity and disease paradigms to get a molecular grasp on how astrocytes might participate in these processes.

Recent Publications:

Koh S, Chen WJ, Dejneka NS, Harris IR, Lu B, Girman S, Saylor J, Wang S and Eroglu C (2018). Subretinal Human Umbilical Tissue-Derived Cell Transplantation Preserves Retinal Synaptic Connectivity and Attenuates Müller Glial Reactivity. J. Neurosci. 2018, Feb 5, 1532-17.

Stogsdill JA, Ramirez J, Liu D, Kim Y-H, Baldwin KT, Enustun E, Ejikeme T, Ji R-R and Eroglu C (2017). Astrocytic Neuroligins Control Astrocyte Morphogenesis and Synaptogenesis. Nature, 551, 192–197. 

Allen NJ and Eroglu C (2017). Cell biology of astrocyte-synapse interactions. Neuron  96, Issue 3, p697–708.

Baldwin KT and Eroglu C (2017). Molecular mechanisms of astrocyte-induced synaptogenesis. Current opinion in neurobiology 42: 1-8.

Stogsdill JA, Eroglu C. (2017). The interplay between neurons and glia in synapse development and plasticity. Curr Opin Neurobiol. 42:1-8. Review.

Gomez-Pastor R, Burchfiel ET, Neef DW, Jaeger AM, Cabiscol E, McKinstry SU, Doss A, Aballay A, Lo DC, Akimov SS, Ross CA, Eroglu C, Thiele DJ. (2017). Abnormal degradation of the neuronal stress-protective transcription factor HSF1 in Huntington's disease. Nat Commun. 13;8:14405.

Park J, Yu YP, Zhou CY, Li KW, Wang D, Chang E, Kim DS, Vo B, Zhang X, Gong N, Sharp K, Steward O, Vitko I, Perez-Reyes E, Eroglu C, Barres B, Zaucke F, Feng G, Luo ZD. (2016). Central Mechanisms Mediating Thrombospondin-4-induced Pain States. J Biol Chem. 17;291(25):13335-48.

Singh SK, Stogsdill JA, Pulimood NS, Dingsdale H, Kim YH, Pilaz LJ, Kim IH, Manhaes AC, Rodriguez-Junior WS, Pamukcu A, Enustun E, Ertuz Z, Scheiffele P, Soderling S, Silver DS, Ji R-R, Medina AE, Eroglu C (2016). Astrocytes assemble thalamocortical synapses by bridging neurexin1-alpha and neuroligin-1 via hevin.  Cell 164(1-2):183-196.

Koh S, Kim N-S, Yin HH, Harris I, Dejneka N and Eroglu C (2015). Human Umbilical Tissue-Derived Cells Promote Synapse Formation and Neurite Outgrowth via Thrombospondin Family Proteins.  J Neurosci. 35(47):15649-15665.

Risher ML, Sexton HG, Risher WC, Wilson WA, Fleming RL, Madison RD, Moore SD, Eroglu C, Swartzwelder HS. (2015). Adolescent Intermittent Alcohol Exposure: Dysregulation of Thrombospondins and Synapse Formation are Associated with Decreased Neuronal Density in the Adult Hippocampus. Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 39(12):2403-13.

Risher ML, Fleming RL, Risher WC, Miller KM, Klein RC, Wills T, Acheson SK, Moore SD, Wilson WA, Eroglu C, Swartzwelder HS. (2015). Adolescent intermittent alcohol exposure: persistence of structural and functional hippocampal abnormalities into adulthood. Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 39(6):989-97. 43.

Chung WS, Allen NJ, Eroglu C. (2015). Astrocytes Control Synapse Formation, Function, and Elimination. Cold Spring Harb Perspect Biol. 6;7(9):a020370.

Risher W.C., Patel S., Kim I.H., Uezu A., Bhagat S., Wilton D.K., Pilaz L.J., Singh Alvarado J., Calhan O.Y., Silver D.L., Stevens B., Calakos N., Soderling S.H., Eroglu C.  (2014). Astrocytes refine cortical connectivity at dendritic spinesElife 17:3.

Risher W.C., Ustunkaya T., Singh J.A., and Eroglu C. (2014). Rapid Golgi Analysis Method for Efficient and Unbiased Classification of Dendritic Spines PLoS ONE 9(9):e107591.

Click here for a full list of Publications.