Phenotypic characterization of spatial cognition and social behavior in mice with 'knockout' of the schizophrenia risk gene neuregulin 1.
journal contributionposted on 22.11.2019, 16:25 by Colm M. O'Tuathaigh, Daniela Babovic, Gerard J. O'Sullivan, Jeremiah J. Clifford, Orna Tighe, David T. Croke, R Harvey, John L. Waddington
Neuregulin-1 (NRG1) has been identified as a candidate susceptibility gene for schizophrenia. In the present study the functional role of the NRG1 gene, as it relates to cognitive and social processes known to be disrupted in schizophrenia, was assessed in mice with heterozygous deletion of transmembrane (TM)-domain NRG1 in comparison with wildtypes (WT). Social affiliative behavior was assessed using the sociability and preference for social novelty paradigm, in terms of time spent in: (i) a chamber containing an unfamiliar conspecific vs. an empty chamber (sociability), or (ii) a chamber containing an unfamiliar conspecific vs. a chamber containing a familiar conspecific (preference for social novelty). Social dominance and aggressive behavior were examined in the resident-intruder paradigm. Spatial learning and memory were assessed using the Barnes maze paradigm, while spatial working memory was measured using the continuous variant of the spontaneous alternation task. Barnes maze data revealed intact spatial learning in NRG1 mutants, with elevated baseline latency to enter the escape hole in male NRG1 mutants reflecting an increase in activity level. Similarly, although a greater number of overall arm entries were found, spontaneous alternation was unaffected in NRG1 mice. Social affiliation data revealed NRG1 mutants to evidence a specific loss of WT preference for spending time with an unfamiliar as opposed to a familiar conspecific. This suggests that NRG1 mutants show a selective impairment in response to social novelty. While spatial learning and working memory processes appear intact, heterozygous deletion of TM-domain NRG1 was associated with disruption to social novelty behavior. These data inform at a novel phenotypic level on the functional role of this gene in the context of its association with risk for schizophrenia.