The neuregulin 1 (NRG1) receptor, ErbB4, has been identified as a potential risk gene for schizophrenia. HER4/ErbB4 is a receptor tyrosine kinase whose transcript undergoes alternative splicing in the brain. Exon 16 encodes isoforms containing a metalloprotease cleavable extracellular domain (JM-a), exon 15 for a cleavage resistant form (JM-b) and exon 26 for a cytoplasmic domain (CYT-1) with a phosphotidylinositol-3 kinase (PI3K) binding site. Disease-associated variants in the ErbB4 gene are intronic and implicate altered splicing of the gene. We examined ErbB4 splice-variant gene expression in the hippocampus and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) in schizophrenia using qPCR and investigated whether expression levels are associated with previously reported genomic risk variants in ErbB4 in a large cohort of human brains. In the DLPFC, we confirmed previous observations, in a separate cohort, that mRNA for ErbB4 splice isoforms containing exon 16 (JM-a) and exon 26 (CYT-1) are significantly elevated in patients with schizophrenia. A main effect of genotype was observed in the DLPFC and hippocampus at a single risk SNP located in intron 12 (rs4673628) on isoforms containing exon 16 (JM-a). We also found that three intronic risk SNPs (rs7598440, rs707284, rs839523) and a core-risk haplotype surrounding exon 3 are strongly associated with elevated expression of splice variants containing exon 26 (CYT-1). These findings suggest that dysregulation of splice-variant specific expression of ErbB4 in the brain underlies the genetic association of the gene with schizophrenia and that the NRG1/ErbB4 signaling pathway may be an important genetic network involved in the pathogenesis of the disease.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Molecular Biology