Adult spinal cord motor and dorsal root ganglion (DRG) sensory neurons express multiple neuregulin-1 (NRG-1) isoforms that act as axon-associated factors promoting neuromuscular junction formation and Schwann cell proliferation and differentiation. NRG-1 isoforms are also expressed by muscle and Schwann cells, suggesting that motor and sensory neurons are themselves acted on by NRG-1 isoforms produced by their peripheral targets. To test this hypothesis, we examined the expression of the NRG-1 receptor subunits erbB2, erbB3, and erbB4 in rat lumbar DRG and spinal cord. All three erbB receptors are expressed in these tissues. Sciatic nerve transection, an injury that induces Schwann cell expression of NRG-1, alters erbB expression in DRG and cord. Virtually all DRG neurons are erbB2- and erbB3-immunoreactive, with erbB4 also detectable in many neurons. In spinal cord white matter, erbB2 and erbB4 antibodies produce dense punctate staining, whereas the erbB3 antibody primarily labels glial cell bodies. Spinal cord dorsal and ventral horn neurons, including alpha-motor neurons, exhibit erbB2, erbB3, and erbB4 immunoreactivity. Spinal cord ventral horn also contains a population of small erbB3+/S100beta+/GFAP- cells (GFAP-negative astrocytes or oligodendrocytes). We conclude that sensory and motor neurons projecting into sciatic nerve express multiple erbB receptors and are potentially NRG-1 responsive.
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