ΔfosB is an alternatively spliced product of the FosB gene that is essential for dopamine-induced reward pathways and that acts as a master switch for addiction. However, the molecular mechanisms of its generation and regulation by dopamine signaling are unknown.
In this new paper, we report that dopamine D1 receptor signaling synergizes with the activin/ALK4/Smad3 pathway to potentiate the generation of ΔFosB mRNA in medium spiny neurons (MSNs) of the nucleus accumbens (NAc) via activation of the RNA-binding protein PCBP1, a regulator of mRNA splicing. Concurrent activation of PCBP1 and Smad3 by D1 and ALK4 signaling induced their interaction, nuclear translocation, and binding to sequences in exon-4 and intron-4 of FosB mRNA. Ablation of either ALK4 or PCBP1 in MSNs impaired ΔFosB mRNA induction and nuclear translocation of ΔFosB protein in response to repeated co-stimulation of D1 and ALK4 receptors. Finally, ALK4 is required in NAc MSNs of adult mice for behavioral sensitization to cocaine.
These findings uncover an unexpected mechanism for ΔFosB generation and drug-induced sensitization through convergent dopamine and ALK4 signaling.
The paper has been published in The EMBO Journal