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Down to BACE-ics—Old Mouse a New Model for Schizophrenia?

10 April 2008. Does a seven-year-old mouse model that mirrors schizophrenia traits bring good luck? The mouse, missing BACE1 (β-site amyloid precursor protein (APP) cleaving enzyme 1) and engineered to study Alzheimer’s disease, debuted in 2001 (see Cai et al., 2001), but in last week’s PNAS online, the lab that developed the mouse reported that it may also be a good model for endophenotypes of schizophrenia. Philip Wong and colleagues at the Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland, show that the mouse exhibits behavioral traits and endophenotypes associated with this psychiatric disorder, and that some of these symptoms can be relieved with an atypical antipsychotic. The BACE1-negative mouse might prove valuable for studying the pathogenesis of schizophrenia and also for evaluating potential new treatments.

That an Alzheimer’s disease-related protease should be linked to schizophrenia is not so far-fetched. In addition to cleaving APP, BACE1 also processes neuregulin 1 (NRG1), a protein of intense interest in schizophrenia research. The NRG1 gene has popped up again and again as a risk factor in genetic association studies (see SRF related news story and SchizophreniaGene), and there is also evidence that this genetic risk is elevated when accompanied by genetic changes in the gene for ErbB4, one of neuregulin’s binding partners (see SRF related news story and SchizophreniaGene). That the NRG1 gene variations occur in non-coding regions suggests that it is a change in gene expression, rather than function, that may be causative. In fact, altered expression of some subtypes of NRG1 (there are four major isoforms) have been linked to genetic variants in both control and schizophrenia brains (see SRF related news story) and levels of both NRG1 and ErbB4 were recently reported to be increased in the prefrontal cortex in schizophrenia patients (see Chong et al., 2008).

The growing links between NRG1/ErbB4 signaling and schizophrenia suggest that any major change to this pathway, such as abolishing BACE1 cleavage of NRG1, might be pathological. To explore this idea, first author Alena Savonenko and colleagues examined their BACE1-null animals for a variety of psychological and behavioral traits that have parallels in schizophrenia patients. Though it is unlikely that any one mouse model might recapitulate the full range of positive and negative symptoms found in patients, the BACE1-negative animals have quite a few.

Savonenko and colleagues found that the animals had reduced prepulse inhibition (PPI), a phenomenon where a brief faint sound reduces the startle reflex to a loud noise that follows soon after. Many people with schizophrenia have impaired PPI. The mice were also hyperactive when presented with novel stimuli in various environments (open field, Y maze, plus maze), which may reflect the agitation that patients sometimes feel. BACE1-negative mice were also highly sensitive to low levels of the psychostimulant MK-801, suggesting they are on the cusp of psychosis. MK-801 is an antagonist of the NMDA-type glutamate receptor, and reduced glutamatergic transmission is potentially a major facet of this disease. The animals also had reduced cognitive skills, as exemplified by poor performance in tasks that rely on working memory, in this case, navigating a radial water maze. And they showed altered social behavior—they found it difficult to distinguish a new mouse from one with which they were already familiar. That these traits in mice model similar behavior in patients is supported by the effects of clozapine, an atypical antipsychotic prescribed for some people with schizophrenia. On the drug, BACE1-null mice were no longer hyperactive and they had normal PPI.

How does eliminating BACE1cause these schizophrenia-like traits? The protease is necessary for maturation of NRG1, which in turn binds to ErbB4. The authors found that in BACE1-nulls, the distribution of ErbB4 is not normal. Specifically, the amount of the kinase associated with the post-synapse is reduced, as judged by binding to post-synaptic density 95 (PSD95), a protein marker of post-synapses. Recent work from Sean P. Murphy and Keren Bielby-Clarke at the University of Nottingham, England, suggests that ErbB4-PSD95 binding is crucial for NRG1 signaling (see Murphy and Bielby-Clarke, 2008).

If BACE1 reduces NRG1 signaling, then how does this translate into schizophrenia-like traits? One possibility is that synaptic transmission is compromised. NRG1 has been implicated in myelination (see SRF related news story) and in the regulation of transmission through both glutamatergic and GABAergic neurons (see SRF related news story), which have both been implicated in this disorder. In fact, Savonenko and colleagues found that the density of dendritic spines in the hippocampal neurons from BACE1-nulls is significantly reduced compared to wild-type animals, tying in faulty NRG1 signaling with neurotransmission deficit.

“Our findings identify BACE1-/- mice as a rodent model that exhibits schizophrenia-like behavioral abnormalities and suggest that genetic or epigenetic alteration of BACE1 may participate in the development of some schizophrenic symptoms in individuals with this complex psychiatric disorder,” conclude the authors. That remains to be determined, as does the role of the various NRG1 isoforms. BACE1 is known to proteolytically cleave types I and III neuregulin, and the structure of the newly identified, type IV, which has been linked to schizophrenia (see SRF related news story), suggests it may be a BACE1 substrate, too. Time will tell.—Tom Fagan.

Reference:
Savonenko AV, Melnikova T, Laird FM, Stewart KA, Price DL, Wong PC. Alteration of BACE1-dependent NRG1/ErbB4 signaling and schizophrenia-like phenotypes in BACE1-null mice. PNAS 2008 April 2, early edition. Abstract

Comments on News and Primary Papers
Comment by:  Victor ChongCynthia Shannon Weickert (SRF Advisor)
Submitted 23 May 2008
Posted 23 May 2008

The findings of Savonenko et al. (2008) are an impressive addition to the growing evidence supporting a role for neuregulin-1 (NRG1) in schizophrenia pathology. The authors not only revealed a novel relationship between schizophrenia-like behavior and the loss of BACE1 proteolytic function, but also showed that this association results from disruption of BACE1-mediated NRG1 cleavage. These observations support the notion that aberrant processing of NRG1 may contribute to the development of schizophrenia-like phenotypes, providing a basis for examining other NRG1-cleaving pathways in the context of schizophrenia. Savonenko et al. were thorough in their behavioral assessment of the BACE1 mutant mice, convincingly showing that these animals exhibit schizophrenia-related behaviors that could be exacerbated by psychostimulants and improved by antipsychotic drug treatment.

What remains unclear, however, is the relationship between the NRG1/ErbB4 protein findings in the BACE1 mutant mouse brain and those previously reported in the schizophrenic human brain. For example, the authors reported reductions in ErbB4-PSD95 coupling in the BACE1 mutant mouse, whereas Hahn et al. (2006) demonstrated increased ErbB4-PSD95 interaction in the prefrontal cortices of schizophrenic patients. In addition, our recent investigation found elevated prefrontal cortical levels of both NRG1 C-terminal fragment (ICD) and full-length ErbB4 protein in schizophrenic subjects (Chong et al., 2008), while Savonenko et al. showed decreased NRG1 C-terminal fragment levels with no alterations in ErbB4 protein in the BACE1 mutant mouse cortex. On the other hand, the lack of variations in overall cortical ErbB4 in these mice may correspond to the findings of Hahn et al. (2006) who reported no alterations in prefrontal cortical ErbB4 protein levels in schizophrenic subjects.

These seemingly conflicting results could suggest that any imbalance in cortical NRG1 signaling, whether increased or diminished, may lead to schizophrenia. Indeed, studies have suggested that improper tuning of other cortical signaling systems, particularly those of dopamine, can contribute to cognitive deficits associated with this disease (Vijayraghavan et. al, 2007). Optimal synaptic function may display “inverted-U” shaped response to NRG1-ErbB4 activity as proposed by Role and Talmage (2007). Alternatively, the authors speculated that some of the discrepancies between the findings in the BACE1 mutant mice and those observed in the schizophrenic humans may be due to differences in the duration of NRG1 signaling modification between the animals and the patients, who had a lifetime of mental illness. One way to examine the validity of this suggestion is to look at cortical ErbB4-PSD95 coupling and NRG1/ErbB4 protein levels in the BACE1 mutant mice at different developmental and adult time points. This approach could test whether these animals at later stages in life display alterations in cortical ErbB4-PSD95 interactions and/or in NRG1/ErbB4 protein levels comparable to those seen in schizophrenic subjects of the human studies, which primarily consisted of adults beyond middle age. Also of interest would be to create NRG1 and ErbB4 gain-of-function mutants where the timing of over-expression could be controlled.

Given the significance of NRG1 signaling/cleavage in the BACE1 mutant mouse schizophrenia-like phenotypes, it may also be important to consider pathways leading to changes in ErbB4 C-terminal fragment levels in schizophrenia etiology. A recent paper by Walsh et al. (2008) demonstrated that at least one schizophrenic patient in their study has a gene deletion encompassing the C-terminal intracellular kinase domain of ErbB4, and we have found decreases in ErbB4 C-terminal fragments relative to full-length ErbB4 in the frontal cortex of schizophrenic subjects (Chong et al., 2008). These observations together with those of Savonenko et al. raise interesting questions regarding how molecular alterations in NRG1 signaling and cleavage may impact ErbB4 signaling and cleavage and whether changes in NRG1 and/or ErbB4 could be primary or secondary to the schizophrenia disease process.

In summary, Savonenko et al. have provided a novel avenue to probe NRG1 function and processing in relation to schizophrenia pathology. They have also introduced BACE1 as a potentially important schizophrenia susceptibility molecule that to our knowledge has not been directly investigated in subjects with schizophrenia and may be worth studying in the brain tissues of these patients. In addition, it would be interesting to examine how the schizophrenia-related traits of the BACE1 mutant mice compare with those of other NRG1 mutant mice such as the heterozygous NRG1 transmembrane knock-out mice (Stefansson et al., 2002). Such an investigation could provide insight into whether similar NRG1 signaling deficiencies underlie the schizophrenia-like phenotypes of these animal models.

References:

Hahn CG, Wang HY, Cho DS, Talbot K, Gur RE, Berrettini WH, Bakshi K, Kamins J, Borgmann-Winter KE, Siegel SJ, Gallop RJ, Arnold SE. (2006) Altered neuregulin 1-erbB4 signaling contributes to NMDA receptor hypofunction in schizophrenia. Nat Med. 12:824-8. Abstract

Chong VZ, Thompson M, Beltaifa S, Webster MJ, Law AJ, Weickert CS. (2008) Elevated neuregulin-1 and ErbB4 protein in the prefrontal cortex of schizophrenic patients. Schizophr Res. 100:270-80. Abstract

Vijayraghavan S, Wang M, Birnbaum SG, Williams GV, Arnsten AF. (2007) Inverted-U dopamine D1 receptor actions on prefrontal neurons engaged in working memory. Nat Neurosci. 10:376-84. Abstract

Role LW, Talmage DA (2007) Neurobiology: new order for thought disorders. Nature. 448:263-5. Abstract

Walsh T, McClellan JM, McCarthy SE, Addington AM, Pierce SB, Cooper GM, Nord AS, Kusenda M, Malhotra D, Bhandari A, Stray SM, Rippey CF, Roccanova P, Makarov V, Lakshmi B, Findling RL, Sikich L, Stromberg T, Merriman B, Gogtay N, Butler P, Eckstrand K, Noory L, Gochman P, Long R, Chen Z, Davis S, Baker C, Eichler EE, Meltzer PS, Nelson SF, Singleton AB, Lee MK, Rapoport JL, King MC, Sebat J. (2008) Rare structural variants disrupt multiple genes in neurodevelopmental pathways in schizophrenia. Science. 320:539-43. Abstract

Stefansson H, Sigurdsson E, Steinthorsdottir V, Bjornsdottir S, Sigmundsson T, Ghosh S, Brynjolfsson J, Gunnarsdottir S, Ivarsson O, Chou TT, Hjaltason O, Birgisdottir B, Jonsson H, Gudnadottir VG, Gudmundsdottir E, Bjornsson A, Ingvarsson B, Ingason A, Sigfusson S, Hardardottir H, Harvey RP, Lai D, Zhou M, Brunner D, Mutel V, Gonzalo A, Lemke G, Sainz J, Johannesson G, Andresson T, Gudbjartsson D, Manolescu A, Frigge ML, Gurney ME, Kong A, Gulcher JR, Petursson H, Stefansson K. (2002) Neuregulin 1 and susceptibility to schizophrenia. Am J Hum Genet. 71:877-92. Abstract

View all comments by Victor Chong
View all comments by Cynthia Shannon Weickert

Comments on Related News


Related News: Neuregulin Partner ErbB4 Spices Up Genetic Associations

Comment by:  Amanda Jayne Law, SRF Advisor
Submitted 22 February 2006
Posted 22 February 2006
  I recommend the Primary Papers

The study of Ghashghaei and colleagues provides a remarkable insight into the function of neuregulin 1 (NRG1), and NRG2 in adult neurogenesis. The study demonstrates that NRG1(2)/ErbB4 signaling influences the proliferation, differentiation, organization, and migration of adult neural progenitor cells in the subventricular zone (SVZ) and rostral migratory stream (RMS), in a ligand- and cell-dependent fashion. Using immunohistochemistry, Ghashghaei and colleagues first demonstrate that NRG1, NRG2, and ErbB4 are expressed by distinct cell types in the SVZ and RMS, notably ErbB4 and NRG1 by polysialylated neural cell adhesion molecule positive (PSA-NCAM+) neuroblasts, and ErbB2/3/4 by a subset of GFAP+ cells. These observations extend the group's previous studies of NRG1 and ErbB4 in the RMS (Anton et al., 2004). In their current study, Ghashghaei went on to examine the effects of exogenous infusion of NRG1 and NRG2 on neurogenesis in the RMS of adult mice. Interestingly, NRG1 was shown to decrease the initiation of neuroblast migration from the SVZ to the RMS by inducing the rapid aggregation of cells in the SVZ. The consequence of this rise in NRG1 was a decrease in the number of PSA-NCAM+ cells in the RMS and GABA+ cells in the olfactory bulb, demonstrating that ectopic or elevated expression of NRG1 prevents differentiation and migration of neurons from the adult SVZ to the RMS.

The study is particularly interesting in terms of the role of NRG1/ErbB4 signaling in directional cell migration. Flames et al. (2004) recently reported that NRG1 (specifically the Ig containing family of isoforms, e.g., Types I, II and IV; for review, see Harrison and Law, 2006) functions as a long distance chemoattractant for ErbB4 positive GABAergic interneurons migrating from the medial ganglionic eminence to the developing cortex. The observation that NRG1 is a chemoattractant in other brain regions may appear somewhat contradictory to the findings of Ghashghaei, which suggest that in-vivo NRG1 actually inhibits migration of neurons from the SVZ (at least when introduced ectopically). However, it would seem that these two findings are actually consistent. Ghashghaei and colleagues ectopically infused NRG1 into the lateral ventricles of adult mice. The subsequent aggregation of cells in the SVZ demonstrates that NRG1 indeed acts as a chemoattractant, not in an obvious manner by inducing the cells to migrate away, but simply by "attracting" them to aggregate or "clump" where they are (subsequently preventing migration to the RMS). So in fact, both the studies of Flames and Ghashghaei show that NRG1 is chemotactic to specific populations of neurons and cells, whether it is expressed at a distance and cells preferentially migrate toward it, or in the immediate environment and cells are attracted to migrate to, or stay in its vicinity.

In the past few years, NRG1 and ErbB4 have both been identified as potential susceptibility genes for schizophrenia. The aim now is to determine the molecular and biological mechanisms by which the genes confer risk for the disease. In terms of schizophrenia, we have previously demonstrated that the Type I isoform of NRG1 is elevated in the hippocampus (and prefrontal cortex; see Hashimoto et al., 2004) in the disease and that expression of the novel Type IV isoform is related to disease-associated sequence variants within the NRG1 gene (Law et al., 2006). Furthermore, we have recently demonstrated that these changes are accompanied by altered expression of specific isoforms of the ErbB4 receptor, consistent with that of Silberberg et al., 2006 (Law et al., 2005). Ghashghaei and colleagues provide the first direct evidence that ectopic or elevated expression of NRG1 in the brain can perturb cell migration. In light of this and other evidence, our findings in schizophrenia may translate into altered neuronal migration, cortical development and possibly neurogenesis in the disease.

At present, the exact links between altered NRG1/ErbB4 signaling and the pathophysiology of schizophrenia are unknown and potentially numerous (i.e., synaptogenesis, neurotransmitter function, neuronal migration, differentiation, glia formation and function, myelination). Studies such as that of Ghashghaei et al. provide insight into the normal role of NRG1/ErbB4 signaling in neurodevelopment and the adult brain which is essential if we are to understand the pathogenic role of the NRG1 gene and its receptors in disease.

References:

Anton ES, Ghashghaei HT, Weber JL, McCann C, Fischer TM, Cheung ID, Gassmann M, Messing A, Klein R, Schwab MH, Lloyd KC, Lai C. Receptor tyrosine kinase ErbB4 modulates neuroblast migration and placement in the adult forebrain. Nat Neurosci. 2004 Dec;7(12):1319-28. Epub 2004 Nov 7. Abstract

Flames N, Long JE, Garratt AN, Fischer TM, Gassmann M, Birchmeier C, Lai C, Rubenstein JL, Marin O. Short- and long-range attraction of cortical GABAergic interneurons by neuregulin-1. Neuron. 2004 Oct 14;44(2):251-61. Abstract

Hashimoto et al., 2004, Mol. Psychiatry 9, 299-307.

Law et al (a) 2006. Neuregulin 1 (NRG1) transcripts are differentially expressed in schizophrenia and regulated by 5’ SNPs associated with the disease. PNAS

Also See SfN 2005 SRF research news: Cortical Deficits in Schizophrenia: Have Genes, Will Hypothesize

Law 2005, SNPing away at NRG1 and ErbB4 gene expression in schizophrenia Neuropsychopharmacology, vol. 30, Supplement 1.

View all comments by Amanda Jayne Law

Related News: Polymorphisms and Schizophrenia—The Ups and Downs of Neuregulin Expression

Comment by:  William Carpenter, SRF Advisor (Disclosure)
Submitted 22 April 2006
Posted 22 April 2006
  I recommend the Primary Papers

Related News: Polymorphisms and Schizophrenia—The Ups and Downs of Neuregulin Expression

Comment by:  Stephan Heckers, SRF Advisor
Submitted 29 April 2006
Posted 29 April 2006
  I recommend the Primary Papers

The gene Neuregulin 1 (NRG1) on chromosome 8p has been identified as one of the risk genes for schizophrenia. It is unclear how the DNA sequence variation linked to schizophrenia leads to abnormalities of mRNA expression. This would be important to know, in order to understand the downstream effects of the neuregulin gene on neuronal functioning in schizophrenia.

Law and colleagues explored this question in post-mortem specimens of the hippocampus of control subjects and patients with schizophrenia. This elegant study of the expression of four types of NRG1 mRNA (types I-IV) is exactly what we need to translate findings from the field of human genetics into the field of schizophrenia neuropathology. The findings are complex and cannot be translated easily into a model of neuregulin dysfunction in schizophrenia. I would like to highlight two findings.

First, the level of NRG1 type I mRNA expression was increased in the hippocampus of schizophrenia patients. This confirms an earlier study of NRG1 mRNA expression in schizophrenia. It remains to be seen how this change in NRG1 type I mRNA expression relates to the finer details of neuregulin dysfunction in schizophrenia.

Second, one single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP8NRG243177) of the risk haplotype linked to schizophrenia in earlier studies predicts NRG1 type IV mRNA expression. The SNP determines a binding site for transcription factors, providing clues for how DNA sequence variation may lead, via modulation of mRNA expression, to neuronal dysfunction in schizophrenia. It is exciting to see that we can now test specific hypotheses of molecular mechanisms in the brains of patients who have suffered from schizophrenia. The study by Law et al. is an encouraging step in the right direction.

View all comments by Stephan Heckers

Related News: Polymorphisms and Schizophrenia—The Ups and Downs of Neuregulin Expression

Comment by:  Bryan Roth, SRF Advisor
Submitted 5 May 2006
Posted 5 May 2006
  I recommend the Primary Papers

I think this is a very interesting and potentially significant paper. It is important to point out, however, that it deals with changes in mRNA abundance rather than alterations in neuregulin protein expression. No measures of isoform protein expression were performed, and it is conceivable that neuregulin isoform protein expression could be increased, decreased, or not changed. A second point is that although statistically significant changes in mRNA were measured, they are modest.

Finally, although multiple comparisons were performed, the authors chose not to perform Bonferroni corrections, noting in the primary paper that, "Correction for random effects, such as Bonferroni correction, would be an excessively conservative approach, particularly given that we have restricted our primary analyses to planned comparisons (based on strong prior clinical association and physical location of the SNPs) of four SNPs and a single haplotype comprised of these SNPs. Because the SNPs are in moderate LD, the degree of independence between markers is low and, therefore, correcting for multiple testing would result in a high type II error rate. The prior probability and the predictable association between the deCODE haplotype and expression of NRG1 isoforms (especially type IV, which is its immediate physical neighbor) combined with the LD between SNPs in this haplotype makes statistical correction for these comparisons inappropriate. Nevertheless, our finding regarding type IV expression and the deCODE haplotype and SNP8NRG243177 requires independent replication."

It will thus be important to determine if these changes in neuregulin mRNA isoform abundance are mirrored by significant changes in neuregulin isoform protein expression and if the findings can be independently replicated with other cohorts.

View all comments by Bryan Roth

Related News: Neuregulin and ErbB4 Mutant Mice Reveal Myelin and Synaptic Deficits

Comment by:  Daniel StewartKenneth Davis
Submitted 3 May 2007
Posted 3 May 2007

Comment by Daniel Stewart and Kenneth Davis
The Corfas results are intriguing. Their findings confirm much of what we have either found or suspect in schizophrenia relating to white matter involvement. Demonstrations of OLIG2 interactions with ErbB4 in the cortex and with CNP in the striatum in schizophrenia from our team (Georgieva et al., 2006) fit well with this investigation in providing evidence for a link between a variety of potential etiologic oligodendrocyte-related mechanisms in schizophrenia. While in our study, we did not find interaction with NRG1 and OLIG2, it is important to note that differential expression of NRG1 might be found only at certain points in the timeline of disease development. Other recent support from our team for white matter involvement in schizophrenia comes from an investigation in which an SNP associated with CNP was found to be significantly correlated with schizophrenia (Peirce et al., 2006). Interestingly, Corfas’s group reports that when ErbB signaling is abolished in oligodendrocytes, myelin structure appears normal, but the myelin sheath is significantly thinner. This is in line with some of the ultrastructural findings of Uranova’s group and in rodent studies looking at MAG-deficient mice (both reviewed in Davis et al., 2003)—another downregulated myelin-related gene found in brains of schizophrenia patients.

Reductions in oligodendrocyte number on the order of 20 percent have been demonstrated in the brains of schizophrenia patients (Hof et al., 2002). Although this finding does not precisely parallel the findings in this investigation, the authors’ adroitly point out that this may be because the abnormalities they induced were during early oligodendrocyte and myelin expression, while it is possible that the abnormalities seen in the brains of schizophrenia patients occur relatively later in development, more likely during the second large wave of cortical myelination at the end of the second decade of life. The authors also point out that “defects in ErbB signaling in different cell types may contribute to different aspects of psychiatric symptoms.” This might also be the case in schizophrenia, giving rise to the myriad presentations of the disease, as might the fact that expression of both NRG1 and ErbB4 are susceptible to environmental insult.

Other important similarities between the authors’ findings and schizophrenia include that, even in light of these myelin abnormalities, gross brain volumes, as well as several other measures, remained normal. This buttresses the idea that in schizophrenia, myelin abnormalities might be at the root of the often unimpressive brain changes noted in schizophrenia on gross structural imaging. And finally, although speculative, the authors do note an intriguing set of behavioral abnormalities, some of which could mimic the social isolation and poor relatedness of schizophrenia, which is particularly remarkable given the increased susceptibility to amphetamines and the trends seen in DAT, D1, and D2 expression in this investigation.

Corfas’s findings are indeed exciting, and we commend his team on an eloquently designed and implemented investigation.

View all comments by Daniel Stewart
View all comments by Kenneth Davis

Related News: Neuregulin and ErbB4 Mutant Mice Reveal Myelin and Synaptic Deficits

Comment by:  Akira Sawa, SRF Advisor
Submitted 4 May 2007
Posted 4 May 2007

Neuregulin1 (NRG1) is the most promising risk factor for schizophrenia, and the study of the signaling of NRG1 and its receptor ErbB4 is very important in understanding the pathophysiology of the disease. Like other promising risk factors for schizophrenia, NRG1/ErbB4 is multifunctional with many molecular isoforms. NRG1/ErbB signaling plays a role both before and after birth. Furthermore, ErbB4 is expressed not only in neurons but also in other types of cells, such as oligodendrocytes.

To address context-dependent functions one by one, dominant-negative transgenic mice can be very useful. The advantage of dominant-negative transgenics is that we can knock down the endogenous function of our target molecules (in this work, ErbB4) in a temporally and spatially specific manner by utilizing a well-characterized promoter. In this outstanding study by Corfas and colleagues, they used the CNP promoter that confirms dominant-negative ErbB4 selectively in oligodendrocytes (but not in astrocytes and neurons) only after birth. This approach will be very useful in schizophrenia research.

The remarkable finding is that they observed alterations in dopamine-mediated neuronal networks and associated behaviors by disturbing NRG1/ErbB4 selectively in cells of oligodendrocyte lineage. Three important paradigms for schizophrenia (white matter pathology, dopamine, and a susceptibility gene) converge in this paper, and in this sense, I find it very exciting.

View all comments by Akira Sawa

Related News: Neuregulin and ErbB4 Mutant Mice Reveal Myelin and Synaptic Deficits

Comment by:  Mary Reid
Submitted 3 May 2007
Posted 5 May 2007

Does the effect of NRG1/ErbB4 signaling on myelination occur downstream of purinergic signaling? Fields suggests that adenosine is of primary importance in regulating early development of OPCs, where it stimulates differentiation and myelination (Fields, 2006). It's of interest that cAMP stimulates expression of neuregulin and cAMP levels in the lung are decreased in A2A adenosine receptor (22q11.2)-deficient mice (Tokita et al., 2001; Nadeem et al., 2007). Do you see reduced neuregulin levels in 22q11 deletion syndrome? Of particular interest is the study by Desai and colleagues reporting that signaling via the adenosine A2A receptor downregulates thrombospondin 1 (Desai et al., 2005). Perhaps overexpression of thrombospondin 1 may help explain the occular abnormalities in this syndrome (Wu et al., 2006; Forbes et al., 2007; Stalmans, 2005). Thrombospondins are also involved in synaptogenesis (Christopherson et al., 2005).

References:

Fields RD. Nerve impulses regulate myelination through purinergic signalling. Novartis Found Symp. 2006;276:148-58; discussion 158-61, 233-7, 275-81.

Tokita Y, Keino H, Matsui F, Aono S, Ishiguro H, Higashiyama S, Oohira A. Regulation of neuregulin expression in the injured rat brain and cultured astrocytes. J Neurosci. 2001 Feb 15;21(4):1257-64.

Nadeem A, Fan M, Ansari HR, Ledent C, Mustafa SJ. Enhanced airway reactivity and inflammation in A2A adenosine receptor deficient allergic mice. Am J Physiol Lung Cell Mol Physiol. 2007 Feb 9; [Epub ahead of print]

Desai A, Victor-Vega C, Gadangi S, Montesinos MC, Chu CC, Cronstein BN. Adenosine A2A receptor stimulation increases angiogenesis by down-regulating production of the antiangiogenic matrix protein thrombospondin 1. Mol Pharmacol. 2005 May;67(5):1406-13. Epub 2005 Jan 26. Comment in: Mol Pharmacol. 2005 May;67(5):1385-7.

Wu Z, Wang S, Sorenson CM, Sheibani N. Attenuation of retinal vascular development and neovascularization in transgenic mice over-expressing thrombospondin-1 in the lens. Dev Dyn. 2006 Jul;235(7):1908-20.

Forbes BJ, Binenbaum G, Edmond JC, Delarato N, McDonald-McGinn DM, Zackai EH. Ocular findings in the chromosome 22q11.2 deletion syndrome. J AAPOS. 2007 Apr;11(2):179-182. Epub 2006 Nov 30.

Stalmans I. Role of the vascular endothelial growth factor isoforms in retinal angiogenesis and DiGeorge syndrome. Verh K Acad Geneeskd Belg. 2005;67(4):229-76.

Christopherson KS, Ullian EM, Stokes CC, Mullowney CE, Hell JW, Agah A, Lawler J, Mosher DF, Bornstein P, Barres BA. Thrombospondins are astrocyte-secreted proteins that promote CNS synaptogenesis. Cell. 2005 Feb 11;120(3):421-33. Comment in: Cell. 2005 Feb 11;120(3):292-3.

View all comments by Mary Reid

Related News: Neuregulin and ErbB4 Mutant Mice Reveal Myelin and Synaptic Deficits

Comment by:  Patricia Estani
Submitted 6 May 2007
Posted 6 May 2007
  I recommend the Primary Papers

Related News: Polymorphisms and Schizophrenia—The Ups and Downs of Neuregulin Expression

Comment by:  Patricia Estani
Submitted 9 June 2007
Posted 10 June 2007
  I recommend the Primary Papers

Related News: Neuregulin and Schizophrenia—Functional Failure Fingers Risk Allele

Comment by:  Ali Mohamad Shariaty
Submitted 14 July 2007
Posted 14 July 2007

It is really a fascinating article which is a step towards understanding the molecular mechanisms underlying phenotypes of schizophrenia. Relating genotypes to phenotypes is really necessary for untangling the puzzle of a complex disorder. However, when a regulatory SNP interferes with normal binding of a transcription factor, is it understood that the transcription factor should play a role in brain and therefore in the molecular pathology of schizophrenia? Is there any direct role for involvement of serum response factor (SRF) in brain development or any neurological process?

View all comments by Ali Mohamad Shariaty

Related News: Neuregulin and Schizophrenia—Functional Failure Fingers Risk Allele

Comment by:  Amanda Jayne Law, SRF Advisor
Submitted 14 July 2007
Posted 15 July 2007

In response to Ali Mohamad Shariaty’s comment: Serum response factor (SRF) plays a key role in regulating the transcription of a number of genes involved in brain development. Genetic manipulation of SRF has revealed a direct role for it as a regulator of cortical and hippocampal function (e.g., Etkin et al., 2006) influencing both learning and memory. At the cellular level SRF has been shown to regulate dendritic morphology and neuronal migration. Therefore, SRF is indeed an important neurodevelopmental molecule, mediated via its regulation of genes, such as NRG1. Genetic variations that are predicted to interfere with SRF binding (such as the SNP characterized in our study) may affect critical aspects of brain development and function that contribute to schizophrenia. Since SRF regulates the expression of a number of genes, beyond that of NRG1, its involvement in schizophrenia is likely mediated “indirectly” via its effects on the regulation of genes associated with the disorder.

References:

Etkin A, Alarcón JM, Weisberg SP, Touzani K, Huang YY, Nordheim A, Kandel ER. A role in learning for SRF: deletion in the adult forebrain disrupts LTD and the formation of an immediate memory of a novel context. Neuron. 2006 Apr 6;50(1):127-43. Abstract

View all comments by Amanda Jayne Law

Related News: Neuregulin and Schizophrenia—Functional Failure Fingers Risk Allele

Comment by:  Robert Hunter
Submitted 17 July 2007
Posted 17 July 2007
  I recommend the Primary Papers

Related News: Convergence Zone: NRG1 Signaling Linked to DISC1 Expression

Comment by:  Amanda Jayne Law, SRF Advisor
Submitted 19 April 2010
Posted 19 April 2010

The study of Seshadri, Sawa, and colleagues presents novel evidence of a potential biological link between two lead schizophrenia susceptibility genes, NRG1 and DISC1. The principal finding of the study is that NRG1 (EGFβ) regulates expression of a specific isoform of DISC1, mediated via ErbB2/3 but not ErbB4. The influence of NRG1 on expression of the DISC1 isoform was confirmed in a variety of in-vitro and in-vivo models. Specifically, the authors report (using Western blotting with the DISC1 antibodies: D27 and mExon3), that treatment with NRG1 (and NRG2), but not NRG3, increases levels of DISC1 immunoreactivity at 130 kDa in immature and mature rat primary neuron cultures. Interestingly, NRG1 (or NRG2) had no effect on expression of the previously reported full-length DISC1 immunoreactive bands of 100-105 kDa. Convincingly, reduction of the 130 kDa DISC1 band was observed in BACE1 -/- and NRG1 +/- mice, both of which have reduced NRG1 signaling. Taken together, these findings suggest that NRG1 signaling regulates expression of a unique 130 kDa DISC1 protein.

This is an important and thoughtful paper, but there are some details that raise questions about the interpretation of the results. Interestingly, two previous studies that characterized the D27 (and mExon3) antibody in mouse brain (Schurov et al., 2004; Ishizuka et al., 2007) failed to report the 130 kDa band described here. Ishizuka et al. reported that immunoprecipitation with the mExon3 antibody followed by detection with the D27 antibody recognized two primary signals (100 and 105 kDa), thought to correspond to full-length DISC1. In contrast, in the present study the authors report that immunoprecipitation of neuronal lysates using mExon3, followed by Western blotting with D27, consistently identifies an additional 130 kDa band (Fig. S2B), which is also present in the P0 mouse cortex (Fig 3C). Whilst it is not clear what accounts for these apparent differences in signal detection of the 130 kDa band using the same antibodies, factors such as species specificity (rat vs. mouse), tissue type, and developmental stage are likely relevant. Such factors are important considerations for future work. Similarly, it will be crucial to determine whether the 130 kDa band is present in human brain and how it relates to risk for schizophrenia. Of final note, the authors performed extensive experimentation in an attempt to confirm the identity of the 130 kDa band (including successful knockdown by a previously characterized RNAi to DISC1), but interestingly they fail to identify any DISC1 sequence in the 130 kDa signal using mass spectrometry (see discussion). In light of this, it is paramount that future studies determine exactly what the 130 kDa proposed DISC1 band represents (i.e., a novel splice isoform, post-transcriptionally modified protein, etc.), given that NRG1’s effects are specifically related to this variant.

In conclusion, this study provides intriguing evidence of a potential molecular link between NRG1 and DISC1, but at present, the interpretation of the results rests on an immunoblot band of unknown identify.

References:

Schurov IL, Handford EJ, Brandon NJ, Whiting PJ. Expression of disrupted in schizophrenia 1 (DISC1) protein in the adult and developing mouse brain indicates its role in neurodevelopment. Mol Psychiatry . 2004 Dec 1 ; 9(12):1100-10. Abstract

Ishizuka K, Chen J, Taya S, Li W, Millar JK, Xu Y, Clapcote SJ, Hookway C, Morita M, Kamiya A, Tomoda T, Lipska BK, Roder JC, Pletnikov M, Porteous D, Silva AJ, Cannon TD, Kaibuchi K, Brandon NJ, Weinberger DR, Sawa A. Evidence that many of the DISC1 isoforms in C57BL/6J mice are also expressed in 129S6/SvEv mice. Mol Psychiatry . 2007 Oct ; 12(10):897-9. Abstract

View all comments by Amanda Jayne Law

Related News: Convergence Zone: NRG1 Signaling Linked to DISC1 Expression

Comment by:  Alexander Arguello
Submitted 3 May 2010
Posted 3 May 2010

This paper raises an interesting issue. It is unclear how an immuno band that has no DISC1 sequences can result from "alternative splicing or post-translational modification." Could someone provide a mechanistic account, at the molecular level, of how this may be possible? To support that this band is DISC1, at least some DISC1 sequence should have been detected. This issue could be related to the non-specific cross-reactivity of many DISC1 antibodies (see Kvajo et al., 2008 for a discussion) and now also raises the possibility of off-target effects of DISC1 RNAi.

Resolving these issues will be paramount for making meaningful insights into how variations in DISC1 contribute to psychotic disorders.

References:

Kvajo M, McKellar H, Arguello PA, Drew LJ, Moore H, MacDermott AB, Karayiorgou M, Gogos JA. A mutation in mouse Disc1 that models a schizophrenia risk allele leads to specific alterations in neuronal architecture and cognition. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2008 May 13;105(19):7076-81. Abstract

View all comments by Alexander Arguello

Related News: Convergence Zone: NRG1 Signaling Linked to DISC1 Expression

Comment by:  Saurav SeshadriAtsushi KamiyaEva AntonAkira Sawa (SRF Advisor)
Submitted 4 May 2010
Posted 4 May 2010

We are very glad to see Dr. Law’s thoughtful and very supportive comments on the work by Seshadri et al. We share the recognition, as we pointed out in the discussion of the paper, that identification of 130 kDa signal at the molecular level is an important future question. To confirm the authenticity of immunoreactivity, we tested if the 130 kDa signal is immunoprecipitated and immunoblotted by different DISC1 antibodies. Similar immunoreactive approaches have been used earlier to distinguish DISC1 isoforms, including a 71 kDa isoform in association with PDE4 (Millar et al., 2005; Chubb et al., 2008). Knockout mice deficient in DISC1 that we have recently generated (unpublished) were used for evaluating the specificity of several antibodies against DISC1 (Schurov et al., 2004; Ishizuka et al., 2007; Duan et al., 2007; Koike et al., 2006). Loss of this immunoreactivity by authentic shRNAs further supports this idea. The sequences of shRNAs are the same as those used in the study by Mao et al. (Mao et al., 2009) to demonstrate that DISC1 may be involved in progenitor cell proliferation.

Of note, mass spectrometry cannot be an ultimate confirmation, because with this technique it is hard to distinguish the signals from two adjacent or overlapped bands in Western blots of 1D gels, one of which is real and the other not. Therefore, regardless of our initial mass spectrometry analysis (even if one finds sequences of the target protein), validation with both immunoprecipitation and RNAi is required to draw a conclusion on the identity of 130 kDa signal. In the study by Seshadri et al., these two ways of validation were successfully made.

Furthermore, whether or not this 130 kDa isoform is also expressed in humans is a critical question. It is also very important to consider context-dependent expression of unique isoforms of genetic susceptibility factors. This unique form (130 kDa) is likely to be in that category; thus, as Dr. Law suggested, comparative analysis is very useful. Further analysis of the genesis, function, and processing of various DISC1 isoforms in the brain will be a worthy pursuit in the context of schizophrenia.

References:

Millar JK, Pickard BS, Mackie S, James R, Christie S, Buchanan SR, Malloy MP, Chubb JE, Huston E, Baillie GS, Thomson PA, Hill EV, Brandon NJ, Rain JC, Camargo LM, Whiting PJ, Houslay MD, Blackwood DH, Muir WJ, Porteous DJ. DISC1 and PDE4B are interacting genetic factors in schizophrenia that regulate cAMP signaling. Science. 2005 Nov 18 ; 310(5751):1187-91. Abstract

Chubb JE, Bradshaw NJ, Soares DC, Porteous DJ, Millar JK. The DISC locus in psychiatric illness. Mol Psychiatry. 2008 Jan 1 ; 13(1):36-64. Abstract

Schurov IL, Handford EJ, Brandon NJ, Whiting PJ. Expression of disrupted in schizophrenia 1 (DISC1) protein in the adult and developing mouse brain indicates its role in neurodevelopment. Mol Psychiatry. 2004 Dec 1 ; 9(12):1100-10. Abstract

Ishizuka K, Chen J, Taya S, Li W, Millar JK, Xu Y, Clapcote SJ, Hookway C, Morita M, Kamiya A, Tomoda T, Lipska BK, Roder JC, Pletnikov M, Porteous D, Silva AJ, Cannon TD, Kaibuchi K, Brandon NJ, Weinberger DR, Sawa A. Evidence that many of the DISC1 isoforms in C57BL/6J mice are also expressed in 129S6/SvEv mice. Mol Psychiatry. 2007 Oct 1 ; 12(10):897-9. Abstract

Duan X, Chang JH, Ge S, Faulkner RL, Kim JY, Kitabatake Y, Liu XB, Yang CH, Jordan JD, Ma DK, Liu CY, Ganesan S, Cheng HJ, Ming GL, Lu B, Song H. Disrupted-In-Schizophrenia 1 regulates integration of newly generated neurons in the adult brain. Cell. 2007 Sep 21 ; 130(6):1146-58. Abstract

Koike H, Arguello PA, Kvajo M, Karayiorgou M, Gogos JA. Disc1 is mutated in the 129S6/SvEv strain and modulates working memory in mice. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2006 Mar 7 ; 103(10):3693-7. Abstract

Mao Y, Ge X, Frank CL, Madison JM, Koehler AN, Doud MK, Tassa C, Berry EM, Soda T, Singh KK, Biechele T, Petryshen TL, Moon RT, Haggarty SJ, Tsai LH. Disrupted in schizophrenia 1 regulates neuronal progenitor proliferation via modulation of GSK3beta/beta-catenin signaling. Cell. 2009 Mar 20 ; 136(6):1017-31. Abstract

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