Purpose: The neuregulin (NRG) 1, 2, and 3 genes undergo extensive alternative mRNA splicing, which results in variants that show structural and functional diversity. The aims of this study were to establish whether the fourth member of this family, NRG4, is expressed in prostate cancer, if it is alternatively spliced and whether any functional differences between the variants could be observed.
Experimental design: The expression of NRG4 was determined using immunohistochemical staining of 40 cases of primary prostate cancer. Bioinformatic analysis and reverse transcription-PCR (RT-PCR) using NRG4 isotype-specific primers on a panel of normal and prostate cancer cell lines were used to identify alternatively spliced NRG4 variants. Expression of these variants was determined using isotype-specific antibodies. Transfection into Cos-7 cells of two of these green fluorescent protein-tagged variants allowed analysis of their subcellular location. Four of the variants were chemically synthesized and tested for their ability to activate the ErbB4 receptor.
Results: NRG4 was variably expressed in the cytoplasm in the majority of prostate cancer cases, and in a subset of cases in the membrane, high levels were associated with advanced disease stage. Four novel NRG4 splice variants (NRGA2, NRG4 B1-3) were characterized, where each seemed to have a different subcellular location and were also expressed in the cytoplasm of the prostate tumors. NRG4 B3 was also present in endothelial cells. In transfected cells, the A type variant (NRG4 A1) was localized to the membrane, whereas the B type variant (NRG4 B1), which lacks the predicted transmembrane region, had an intracellular localization. Only the variants with an intact epidermal growth factor-like domain activated ErbB4 signaling.
Conclusion: NRG4 overexpression is associated with advanced-stage prostate cancer. The alternative splice variants may have different roles in cell signaling, some acting as classic receptor ligands and some with as-yet unknown functions.