Research ArticleCELLULAR NEUROSCIENCE

Human endogenous retroviral protein triggers deficit in glutamate synapse maturation and behaviors associated with psychosis

See allHide authors and affiliations

Science Advances  17 Jul 2020:
Vol. 6, no. 29, eabc0708
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abc0708

Abstract

Mobile genetic elements, such as human endogenous retroviruses (HERVs), produce proteins that regulate brain cell functions and synaptic transmission and have been implicated in the etiology of neurological and neurodevelopmental psychiatric disorders. However, the mechanisms by which these proteins of retroviral origin alter brain cell communication remain poorly understood. Here, we combined single-molecule tracking, calcium imaging, and behavioral approaches to demonstrate that the envelope protein (Env) of HERV type W, which is normally silenced but expressed in patients with neuropsychiatric conditions, alters the N-methyl-d-aspartate receptor (NMDAR)–mediated synaptic organization and plasticity through glia- and cytokine-dependent changes. Env expression in the developing hippocampus was sufficient to induce behavioral impairments at the adult stage that were prevented by Env neutralization or tuning of NMDAR trafficking. Thus, we show that a HERV gene product alters glutamate synapse maturation and generates behavioral deficits, further supporting the possible etiological interplay between genetic, immune, and synaptic factors in psychosis.

https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/

This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial license, which permits use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, so long as the resultant use is not for commercial advantage and provided the original work is properly cited.

View Full Text

Stay Connected to Science Advances