The Erk MAP kinase pathway is activated at muscle spindles and is required for induction of the muscle spindle-specific gene Egr3 by neuregulin1.
Muscle spindles are sensory receptors embedded within muscle that detect changes in muscle length. Each spindle is composed of specialized muscle fibers, known as intrafusal muscle fibers, along with the endings of axons from sensory neurons that innervate these muscle fibers. Formation of muscle spindles requires neuregulin1 (NRG1), which is released by sensory axons, activating ErbB receptors in muscle cells that are contacted. In muscle cells, the transcription factor Egr3 is transcriptionally induced by NRG1, which in turn activates various target genes involved in forming the intrafusal fibers of muscle spindles. The signaling relay within the NRG1-ErbB pathway that acts to induce Egr3 is presumably critical for muscle spindle formation but for the most part has not been determined. In the current studies, we examined, using cultured muscle cells, transcriptional regulatory mechanisms by which Egr3 responds to NRG1. We identified a composite regulatory element for the Egr3 gene, consisting adjacent sites that bind cAMP response element binding protein (CREB) and serum response factor (SRF), with a role in NRG1 responsiveness. The SRF element also influences Egr3 basal expression in unstimulated myotubes, and in the absence of the SRF element, the CREB element influences basal expression. We show that NRG1 signaling, to target SRF, acts on the SRF coactivators myocardian-related transcription factor (MRTF)-A and MRTF-B, which are known to activate SRF-mediated transcription, by stimulating their translocation from the cytoplasm to the nucleus. CREB is phosphorylated, which is known to contribute to its activation, in response to NRG1. These results suggest that NRG1 induces expression of the muscle spindle-specific gene Egr3 by stimulating the transcriptional activity of CREB and SRF.