Environmental Stimuli Activates Early Growth Response 3 (EGR3), an Immediate Early Gene Residing at the Center of a Biological Pathway Associated with Risk for Schizophrenia

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Schizophrenia, a debilitating neuropsychiatric disorder, affects 1% of the population. This multifaceted disorder is comprised of positive (hallucinations/psychosis), negative (social withdrawal/anhedonia) and cognitive symptoms. While treatments for schizophrenia have advanced

Schizophrenia, a debilitating neuropsychiatric disorder, affects 1% of the population. This multifaceted disorder is comprised of positive (hallucinations/psychosis), negative (social withdrawal/anhedonia) and cognitive symptoms. While treatments for schizophrenia have advanced over the past few years, high economic burdens are still conferred to society, totaling more than $34 billion in direct annual costs to the United States of America. Thus, a critical need exists to identify the factors that contribute towards the etiology of schizophrenia. This research aimed to determine the interactions between environmental factors and genetics in the etiology of schizophrenia. Specifically, this research shows that the immediate early gene, early growth response 3 (EGR3), which is upregulated in response to neuronal activity, resides at the center of a biological pathway to confer risk for schizophrenia. While schizophrenia-risk proteins including neuregulin 1 (NRG1) and N-methyl-D-aspartate receptors (NMDAR’s) have been identified upstream of EGR3, the downstream targets of EGR3 remain relatively unknown. This research demonstrates that early growth response 3 regulates the expression of the serotonin 2A-receptor (5HT2AR) in the frontal cortex following the physiologic stimulus, sleep deprivation. This effect is translated to the level of protein as 8 hours of sleep-deprivation results in the upregulation of 5HT2ARs, a target of antipsychotic medications. Additional downstream targets were identified following maximal upregulation of EGR3 through electroconvulsive stimulation (ECS). Both brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and its epigenetic regulator, growth arrest DNA-damage-inducible 45 beta (GADD45B) are upregulated one-hour following ECS in the hippocampus and require the presence of EGR3. These proteins play important roles in both cellular proliferation and dendritic structural changes. Next, the effects of ECS on downstream neurobiological processes, hippocampal cellular proliferation and dendritic structural changes were examined. Following ECS, hippocampal cellular proliferationwas increased, and dendritic structural changes were observed in both wild-type and early growth response 3 knock-out (Egr3-/-) mice. Effects in the number of dendritic spines and dendritic complexity following ECS were not found to require EGR3. Collectively, these results demonstrate that neuronal activity leads to the regulation of schizophrenia risk proteins by EGR3 and point to a possible molecular mechanism contributing risk for schizophrenia.