The neuregulin (NRG) family of growth and differentiation factors and their erbB receptors contribute importantly to the development of the nervous system, but their distribution and function in the adult brain are poorly understood. The present study showed that erbB2, erbB3, and erbB4 transcripts and protein are distributed throughout all areas of adult rat brain. These three receptors were differentially expressed in neurons and glia. Some neurons expressed only a subset of erbB kinases, whereas other neurons expressed all three erbB receptors but sequestered each of these polypeptides into distinct cellular compartments. In synapse-rich regions, erbB immunoreactivity appeared as punctate-, axon-, and/or dendrite-associated staining, suggesting that NRGs are involved in the formation and maintenance of synapses in adult brain. ErbB labeling also was present in neuronal soma, indicating that NRGs act at sites in addition to the synapse. Glia in adult brain also differentially expressed erbB3 and erbB4. Approximately half of the erbB3 labeling in white matter was associated with S100β+/glial fibrillary acidic protein negative macroglia (i.e., oligodendrocytes or glial fibrillary acidic protein negative astrocytes). In contrast, macroglia in gray matter did not express erbB3. The remaining erbB3 immunoreactivity in white matter and erbB4 glial staining seemed to be associated with microglia. These results showed that erbB receptors are expressed widely in adult rat brain and that each erbB receptor subtype has a distinct distribution. The differential distributions of erbB receptors in neurons and glia and the known functional differences between these kinases suggest that NRGs have distinct effects on these cells. The continued expression of NRGs and their erbB receptors in mature brain also implies that these molecules perform important functions in the brain throughout life.
- Acetylcholine receptor inducing activity
- Glial growth factor