Neuregulin 1 (NRG1) and its receptor ErbB4 are both susceptibility genes of schizophrenia. However, little is known about the underlying mechanisms of their malfunction. Although ErbB4 is enriched in GABAergic interneurons, the role of NRG1 in excitatory synapse formation in these neurons remains poorly understood. We showed that NRG1 increased both the number and size of PSD-95 puncta and the frequency and amplitude of miniature EPSCs (mEPSCs) in GABAergic interneurons, indicating that NRG1 stimulates the formation of new synapses and strengthens existing synapses. In contrast, NRG1 treatment had no effect on either the number or size of excitatory synapses in glutamatergic neurons, suggesting its synaptogenic effect is specific to GABAergic interneurons. Ecto-ErbB4 treatment diminished both the number and size of excitatory synapses, suggesting that endogenous NRG1 may be critical for basal synapse formation. NRG1 could stimulate the stability of PSD-95 in the manner that requires tyrosine kinase activity of ErbB4. Finally, deletion of ErbB4 in parvalbumin-positive interneurons led to reduced frequency and amplitude of mEPSCs, providing in vivo evidence that ErbB4 is important in excitatory synaptogenesis in interneurons. Together, our findings suggested a novel synaptogenic role of NRG1 in excitatory synapse development, possibly via stabilizing PSD-95, and this effect is specific to GABAergic interneurons. In light of the association of the genes of both NRG1 and ErbB4 with schizophrenia and dysfunction of GABAergic system in this disorder, these results provide insight into its potential pathological mechanism.
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