Involvement of ErbB4 in excitatory and inhibitory synapse maturation

Synapses are the junctions across which signals are passed from one neuron to another. Generally, the type of input received through synapses can be classified into two categories: excitatory input increases the signal transmission, while inhibitory input reduces signal transmission. Problems that disrupt the coordination of excitatory and inhibitory inputs have been associated with the development of many severe psychiatric disorders, including schizophrenia. Recently, genetic analysis of families with a history of schizophrenia identified two genes potentially responsible for the onset of the disorder: Neuregulin1 (NRG1) and its protein receptor ErbB4. Daria Krivosheya’s recent research indicates that the ErbB4 protein receptor may help to stabilize existing synapses. Previous research has shown that ErbB4 interacts with PSD-95, a protein involved in regulating other proteins involved with excitatory synapses. Krivosheya believes interaction of the ErbB4 protein receptor with the PSD-95 protein may regulate the number of excitatory and inhibitory synapses formed by the nerve cell, while interaction with the NRG1 gene may stabilize synapses and promote branching out of dendrites, extensions of a nerve cell that conduct impulses from neighbouring cells. Krivosheya is investigating the role of NRG1-ErbB4 interaction at the synapse, as well as involvement of PSD-95 in mediating this interaction. Her goal is to explain the mechanism through which these molecules control excitatory and inhibitory synaptic balance. She hopes her research will ultimately help explain some of the physical or behavioral abnormalities associated with schizophrenia, and lead to the development of new therapies.