Major depressive disorder (MDD) is a complex and debilitating illness whose etiology remains unclear. Small RNA molecules, such as micro RNAs (miRNAs) have been implicated in MDD, where they display differential expression in the brain and the periphery. In this study, we quantified miRNA expression by small RNA sequencing in the anterior cingulate cortex and habenula of individuals with MDD and psychiatrically-healthy controls. Thirty-two miRNAs showed significantly correlated expression between the two regions (False Discovery Rate < 0.05), of which four, miR-204-5p, miR-320b, miR-323a-3p, and miR-331-3p, displayed upregulated expression in MDD. We assessed the expression of predicted target genes of differentially expressed miRNAs in the brain, and found that the expression of erb-b2 receptor tyrosine kinase 4 (ERBB4), a gene encoding a neuregulin receptor, was downregulated in both regions, and was influenced by miR-323a-3p in vitro. Finally, we assessed the effects of manipulating miRNA expression in the mouse ACC on anxiety- and depressive-like behaviors. Mice in which miR-323-3p was overexpressed or knocked-down displayed increased and decreased emotionality, respectively. Additionally, these mice displayed significantly downregulated and upregulated expression of Erbb4, respectively. Overall, our findings indicate the importance of brain miRNAs in the pathology of MDD, and emphasize the involvement of miR-323a-3p and ERBB4 in this phenotype. Future studies further characterizing miR-323a-3p and neuregulin signaling in depression are warranted.
© 2020. The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature Limited.