The Neuregulin 1 transmembrane domain heterozygous mutant (Nrg1 TM HET) mouse is used to investigate the role of Nrg1 in brain function and schizophrenia-like behavioural phenotypes. However, the molecular alterations in brain Nrg1 expression that underpin the behavioural observations have been assumed, but not directly determined. Here we comprehensively characterise mRNA Nrg1 transcripts throughout development of the Nrg1 TM HET mouse. In addition, we investigate the regulation of high-frequency (gamma) electrophysiological oscillations in this mutant mouse to associate molecular changes in Nrg1 with a schizophrenia-relevant neurophysiological profile.
Using exonic probes spanning the cysteine-rich, epidermal growth factor (EGF)-like, transmembrane and intracellular domain encoding regions of Nrg1, mRNA levels were measured using qPCR in hippocampus and frontal cortex from male and female Nrg1 TM HET and wild type-like (WT) mice throughout development. We also performed electrophysiological recordings in adult mice and analysed gamma oscillatory at baseline, in responses to auditory stimuli and to ketamine.
In both hippocampus and cortex, Nrg1 TM HET mice show significantly reduced expression of the exon encoding the transmembrane domain of Nrg1 compared with WT, but unaltered mRNA expression encoding the extracellular bioactive EGF-like and the cysteine-rich (type III) domains, and development-specific and region-specific reductions in the mRNA encoding the intracellular domain. Hippocampal Nrg1 protein expression was not altered, but NMDA receptor NR2B subunit phosphorylation was lower in Nrg1 TM HET mice. We identified elevated ongoing and reduced sensory-evoked gamma power in Nrg1 TM HET mice.
We found no evidence to support the claim that the Nrg1 TM HET mouse represents a simple haploinsufficient model. Further research is required to explore the possibility that mutation results in a gain of Nrg1 function.