Transmembrane isoforms of neuregulin-1 (Nrg-1), ligands for erbB receptors, include an extracellular domain with an EGF-like sequence and a highly conserved intracellular domain (ICD) of unknown function. In this paper, we demonstrate that transmembrane isoforms of Nrg-1 are bidirectional signaling molecules in neurons. The stimuli for Nrg-1 back signaling include binding of erbB receptor dimers to the extracellular domain of Nrg-1 and neuronal depolarization. These stimuli elicit proteolytic release and translocation of the ICD of Nrg-1 to the nucleus. Once in the nucleus, the Nrg-1 ICD represses expression of several regulators of apoptosis, resulting in decreased neuronal cell death in vitro. Thus, regulated proteolytic processing of Nrg-1 results in retrograde signaling that appears to mediate contact and activity-dependent survival of Nrg-1-expressing neurons.
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