The American journal of pathology

Brain-specific deletion of extracellular signal-regulated kinase 2 mitogen-activated protein kinase leads to aberrant cortical collagen deposition.

PMID 19893051


The mitogen-activated protein kinases extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK)1 and 2 are essential intracellular mediators of numerous transmembrane signals. To investigate neural-specific functions of ERK2 in the brain, we used a Cre/lox strategy using Nestin:Cre to drive recombination in neural precursor cells. Nestin:Cre;ERK2(fl/fl) conditional knockout (cKO) mice have architecturally normal brains and no gross behavioral deficits. However, all cKO mice developed early-onset (postnatal day 35 to 40) frontal cortical astrogliosis, without evidence of neuronal degeneration. Frontoparietal cortical gray matter, but not underlying white matter, was found to contain abundant pericapillary and parenchymal reticulin fibrils, which were shown by immunohistochemistry to contain fibrillar collagens, including type I collagen. ERK1 general KO mice showed neither fibrils nor astrogliosis, indicating a specific role for ERK2 in the regulation of brain collagen. Collagen fibrils were also observed to a lesser extent in GFAP:Cre;ERK2(fl/fl) mice but not in CamKII-Cre;ERK2(fl/fl) mice (pyramidal neuron specific), consistent with a possible astroglial origin. Primary astroglial cultures from cKO mice expressed elevated fibrillar collagen levels, providing further evidence that the phenotype may be cell autonomous for astroglia. Unlike most other tissues, brain and spinal cord parenchyma do not normally contain fibrillar collagens, except in disease states. Determining mechanisms of ERK2-mediated collagen regulation may enable targeted suppression of glial scar formation in diverse neurological disorders.