Neuregulin 1 (NRG1) is a multifunctional neurotrophin that mediates neurodevelopment and schizophrenia risk. The NRG1 gene undergoes extensive alternative splicing, and association of brain NRG1 type IV isoform expression with the schizophrenia-risk polymorphism rs6994992 is a potential mechanism of risk. Novel splice variants of NRG1-IV (NRG1-IVNV), with predicted unique signaling capabilities, have been cloned in fetal brain tissue. The authors investigated the temporal dynamics of transcription of NRG1-IVNV, compared with the major NRG1 isoforms, across human prenatal and postnatal prefrontal cortical development, and they examined the association of rs6994992 with NRG1-IVNV expression.
NRG1 type I–IV and NRG1-IVNV isoforms were evaluated with quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction in human postmortem prefrontal cortex tissue samples at 14 to 39 weeks gestation and postnatal ages 0–83 years. The association of rs6994992 genotype with NRG1-IVNV expression and the subcellular distribution and proteolytic processing of NRG1-IVNV isoforms were also determined.
Expression of NRG1 types I, II, and III was temporally regulated during prenatal and postnatal neocortical development. NRG1-IVNV was expressed from 16 weeks gestation until age 3. Homozygosity for the schizophrenia risk allele (T) of rs6994992 conferred lower cortical NRG1-IVNV levels. Assays showed that NRG1-IVNV is a novel nuclear-enriched, truncated NRG1 protein resistant to proteolytic processing.
To the authors’ knowledge, this study provides the first quantitative map of NRG1 isoform expression during human neocortical development and aging. It identifies a potential mechanism of early developmental risk for schizophrenia at the NRG1 locus, involving a novel class of NRG1 proteins.