Neuregulin: an activity-dependent synaptic modulator at the neuromuscular junction

J Neurocytol. Jun-Sep 2003;32(5-8):649-64. doi: 10.1023/B:NEUR.0000020640.84708.35.


Synaptic activity in the form of neurotransmitter release and postsynaptic depolarization is a prime motive force that guides synaptic development throughout the nervous system. The molecular basis of how synaptic activity is converted into structural changes that build and maintain synapses is a key question that has recently become focused on regulatory factors that act on tyrosine kinase receptors on both sides of the synaptic interface. The neuregulins are such a family of growth and differentiation factors that exist as both membrane-bound and soluble forms through alternatively splicing. Neuregulin functions to promote the local expression of acetylcholine receptors at neuromuscular synapses and therefore has the potential to strengthen specific synaptic connections. Recent evidence suggests that synaptic activity at the neuromuscular junction is coupled to presynaptic neuregulin release through an indirect mechanism acting through the postsynaptic expression of neurotrophic factors. At early stages of development, this could potentiate the stability of more active synapses. Later in development, heparin-binding forms of neuregulin accumulate to high levels in the synaptic basal lamina through the developmentally programmed expression of heparan sulfate proteoglycans, thus providing a sustained source of neuregulin to the most active synapses.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Neuregulins / chemistry
  • Neuregulins / metabolism*
  • Neuromuscular Junction / chemistry
  • Neuromuscular Junction / metabolism
  • Synapses / chemistry
  • Synapses / metabolism*


  • Neuregulins