The brain processes information by transmitting signals at synapses, which connect neurons into vast networks of communicating cells. In these networks, synapses not only transmit signals but also transform and refine them. Neurexins and neuroligins are synaptic cell-adhesion molecules that connect presynaptic and postsynaptic neurons at synapses, mediate signalling across the synapse, and shape the properties of neural networks by specifying synaptic functions. In humans, alterations in genes encoding neurexins or neuroligins have recently been implicated in autism and other cognitive diseases, linking synaptic cell adhesion to cognition and its disorders.
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I thank D. Arac, A. Brunger, X. Liu, J. Gibson and K. Huber for advice and help with figures. Work in my laboratory on NRXNs and NLGNs is supported by the National Institute of Mental Health and the Simon Foundation.
The author declares no competing financial interests.
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Südhof, T. Neuroligins and neurexins link synaptic function to cognitive disease. Nature 455, 903–911 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature07456
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