Leptin has neurotrophic actions in the hippocampus to increase synapse formation and stimulate neuronal plasticity. Leptin also enhances cognition and has antidepressive and anxiolytic-like effects, two hippocampal-dependent behaviors. In contrast, mice lacking leptin or the long form of the leptin receptor (LepRb) have lower cortical volume and decreased memory and exhibit depressive-like behaviors. A number of the signaling pathways regulated by LepRb are known, but how membrane LepRb levels are regulated in the central nervous system is not well understood. Here, we show that the lysosomal inhibitor chloroquine increases LepRb expression in hippocampal cultures, suggesting that LepRb is degraded in the lysosome. Furthermore, we show that leptin increases surface expression of its own receptor by decreasing the level of ubiquitinated LepRbs. This decrease is mediated by the deubiquitinase ubiquitin-specific protease 8 (USP8), which we show is in complex with LepRb. Acute leptin stimulation increases USP8 activity. Moreover, leptin stimulates USP8 gene expression through cAMP response element-binding protein (CREB)-dependent transcription, an effect blocked by expression of a dominant-negative CREB or with short hairpin RNA knockdown of CREB. Increased expression of USP8 causes increased surface localization of LepRb, which in turn enhances leptin-mediated activation of the MAPK kinase/extracellular signal-regulated kinase pathway and CREB activation. Lastly, increased USP8 expression increases glutamatergic synapse formation in hippocampal cultures, an effect dependent on expression of LepRbs. Leptin-stimulated synapse formation also requires USP8. In conclusion, we show that USP8 deubiquitinates LepRb, thus inhibiting lysosomal degradation and enhancing surface localization of LepRb, which are essential for leptin-stimulated synaptogenesis in the hippocampus.
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