Reactive astrogliosis is a hallmark of many neurological disorders, yet its functions and molecular mechanisms remain elusive. Particularly, the upstream signaling that regulates pathological responses of astrocytes is largely undetermined. We used a mouse traumatic brain injury model to induce astrogliosis and revealed activation of ErbB receptors in reactive astrocytes. Moreover, cell-autonomous inhibition of ErbB receptor activity in reactive astrocytes by a genetic approach suppressed hypertrophic remodeling possibly through the regulation of actin dynamics. However, inhibiting ErbB signaling in reactive astrocytes did not affect astrocyte proliferation after brain injury, although it aggravated local inflammation. In contrast, active ErbB signaling in mature astrocytes of various brain regions in mice was sufficient to initiate reactive responses, reproducing characterized molecular and cellular features of astrogliosis observed in injured or diseased brains. Further, prevalent astrogliosis in the brain induced by astrocytic ErbB activation caused anorexia in animals. Therefore, our findings defined an unrecognized role of ErbB signaling in inducing reactive astrogliosis. Mechanistically, inhibiting ErbB signaling in reactive astrocytes prominently reduced Src and focal adhesion kinase (FAK) activity that is important for actin remodeling, although ErbB signaling activated multiple downstream signaling proteins. The discrepancies between the results from loss- and gain-of-function studies indicated that ErbB signaling regulated hypertrophy and proliferation of reactive astrocytes by different downstream signaling pathways. Our work demonstrated an essential mechanism in the pathological regulation of astrocytes and provided novel insights into potential therapeutic targets for astrogliosis-implicated diseases.
Keywords: anorexia; brain injury; glia; gliosis; receptor tyrosine kinase.