Neuregulins (also known as ARIA, NDF, heregulin, GGF) are a family of widely expressed growth and differentiation factors. Neuregulins secreted from motor neurons accumulate at maturing neuromuscular junctions, where they stimulate transcription of genes encoding specific acetylcholine receptors. How these factors function at central synapses, however, is unknown. In the maturing cerebellum, neuregulins are concentrated in glutamatergic mossy fibres that innervate granule cells in the internal granule-cell layer1. We have analysed the effects of neuregulins on the expression of genes encoding NMDA (N-methyl-D-aspartate) receptors in the cerebellum, because receptor composition changes dramatically as expression of the receptor NR2C subunit is specifically induced in neurons in the internal granule-cell layer during synaptogenesis. Here we report that addition of a neuregulin-β isoform to cultured cerebellar slices specifically increases the expression of NR2C messenger RNAs by at least 100-fold; effects are only minor with a neuregulin-α isoform. This stimulation of NR2C expression requires synaptic activity by NMDA receptors, as well as neuregulin-β. Addition of the NMDA-receptor-channel blocker AP-5 prevents upregulation of the NR2C subunit by neuregulin, whereas an AMPA/kainate-receptor antagonist does not. Consistent with these effects of neuregulin, we find that granule cells express its receptors ErbB2 and ErbB4 before the NR2C subunit of the NMDA receptor. Our results indicate that neuregulins regulate the composition of neurotransmitter receptors in maturing synapses in the brain, in a manner analogous to the neuromuscular junction.
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We thank Z. Yang, J. Cheng and Y. Miyazaki for technical assistance, S. Carroll for erbB cDNAs, Z. Hall and P. Nelson for critically reading the manuscript, and NICHD for support.
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