Dendrite arborization and synapse formation are essential for wiring the neural circuitry. The evolutionarily conserved NDR1/2 kinase pathway, important for polarized growth from yeast to mammals, controls dendrite growth and morphology in the worm and fly. The function of NDR1/2 in mammalian neurons and their downstream effectors were not known. Here we show that the expression of dominant negative (kinase-dead) NDR1/2 mutants or siRNA increase dendrite length and proximal branching of mammalian pyramidal neurons in cultures and in vivo, whereas the expression of constitutively active NDR1/2 has the opposite effect. Moreover, NDR1/2 contributes to dendritic spine development and excitatory synaptic function. We further employed chemical genetics and identified NDR1/2 substrates in the brain, including two proteins involved in intracellular vesicle trafficking: AAK1 (AP-2 associated kinase) and Rabin8, a GDP/GTP exchange factor (GEF) of Rab8 GTPase. We finally show that AAK1 contributes to dendrite growth regulation, and Rabin8 regulates spine development. The serine-threonine kinases NDR1 and NDR2 regulate dendrite morphogenesis and spine development. Ultanir et al. use chemical genetics to find NDR1/2 substrates and their phosphorylation sites in the mouse brain. Phosphorylation of AAK1 and Rabin8 by NDR1/2 regulates dendrite formation and spine development.
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