Autism spectrum disorder-like behavior caused by reduced excitatory synaptic transmission in pyramidal neurons of mouse prefrontal cortex.
ABSTRACT: Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is thought to result from deviation from normal development of neural circuits and synaptic function. Many genes with mutation in ASD patients have been identified. Here we report that two molecules associated with ASD susceptibility, contactin associated protein-like 2 (CNTNAP2) and Abelson helper integration site-1 (AHI1), are required for synaptic function and ASD-related behavior in mice. Knockdown of CNTNAP2 or AHI1 in layer 2/3 pyramidal neurons of the developing mouse prefrontal cortex (PFC) reduced excitatory synaptic transmission, impaired social interaction and induced mild vocalization abnormality. Although the causes of reduced excitatory transmission were different, pharmacological enhancement of AMPA receptor function effectively restored impaired social behavior in both CNTNAP2- and AHI1-knockdown mice. We conclude that reduced excitatory synaptic transmission in layer 2/3 pyramidal neurons of the PFC leads to impaired social interaction and mild vocalization abnormality in mice.
Project description:ASH1L, a histone methyltransferase, is identified as a top-ranking risk factor for autism spectrum disorder (ASD), however, little is known about the biological mechanisms underlying the link of ASH1L haploinsufficiency to ASD. Here we show that ASH1L expression and H3K4me3 level are significantly decreased in the prefrontal cortex (PFC) of postmortem tissues from ASD patients. Knockdown of Ash1L in PFC of juvenile mice induces the downregulation of risk genes associated with ASD, intellectual disability (ID) and epilepsy. These downregulated genes are enriched in excitatory and inhibitory synaptic function and have decreased H3K4me3 occupancy at their promoters. Furthermore, Ash1L deficiency in PFC causes the diminished GABAergic inhibition, enhanced glutamatergic transmission, and elevated PFC pyramidal neuronal excitability, which is associated with severe seizures and early mortality. Chemogenetic inhibition of PFC pyramidal neuronal activity, combined with the administration of GABA enhancer diazepam, rescues PFC synaptic imbalance and seizures, but not autistic social deficits or anxiety-like behaviors. These results have revealed the critical role of ASH1L in regulating synaptic gene expression and seizures, which provides insights into treatment strategies for ASH1L-associated brain diseases. ASH1L haploinsufficiency is strongly linked to autism, despite the unknown mechanism. Here, the authors show that ASH1L deficiency in prefrontal cortex causes the downregulation of synaptic genes, leading to seizures, which is rescued by chemogenetic and pharmacological restoration of excitation/inhibition balance.
Project description:Impaired synaptic neurotransmission may underly circuit alterations contributing to behavioral autism spectrum disorder (ASD) phenotypes. A critical component of impairments reported in somatosensory and prefrontal cortex of ASD mouse models are parvalbumin (PV)-expressing fast-spiking interneurons. However, it remains unknown whether PV interneurons mediating hippocampal networks crucial to navigation and memory processing are similarly impaired. Using PV-labeled transgenic mice, a battery of behavioral assays, in vitro patch-clamp electrophysiology, and in vivo 32-channel silicon probe local field potential recordings, we address this question in a Cntnap2-null mutant mouse model representing a human ASD risk factor gene. Cntnap2<sup>-/-</sup> mice show a reduction in hippocampal PV interneuron density, reduced inhibitory input to CA1 pyramidal cells, deficits in spatial discrimination ability, and frequency-dependent circuit changes within the hippocampus, including alterations in gamma oscillations, sharp-wave ripples, and theta-gamma modulation. Our findings highlight hippocampal involvement in ASD and implicate interneurons as a potential therapeutical target.
Project description:We utilized forebrain organoids generated from induced pluripotent stem cells of patients with a syndromic form of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) with a homozygous protein-truncating mutation in CNTNAP2, to study its effects on embryonic cortical development. Patients with this mutation present with clinical characteristics of brain overgrowth. Patient-derived forebrain organoids displayed an increase in volume and total cell number that is driven by increased neural progenitor proliferation. Single-cell RNA sequencing revealed PFC-excitatory neurons to be the key cell types expressing CNTNAP2. Gene ontology analysis of differentially expressed genes (DEgenes) corroborates aberrant cellular proliferation. Moreover, the DEgenes are enriched for ASD-associated genes. The cell-type-specific signature genes of the CNTNAP2-expressing neurons are associated with clinical phenotypes previously described in patients. The organoid overgrowth phenotypes were largely rescued after correction of the mutation using CRISPR-Cas9. This CNTNAP2-organoid model provides opportunity for further mechanistic inquiry and development of new therapeutic strategies for ASD.
Project description:Genetic studies of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have revealed multigene variations that converge on synaptic dysfunction. DOCK4, a gene at 7q31.1 that encodes the Rac1 guanine nucleotide exchange factor Dock4, has been identified as a risk gene for ASD and other neuropsychiatric disorders. However, whether and how Dock4 disruption leads to ASD features through a synaptic mechanism remain unexplored. We generated and characterized a line of Dock4 knockout (KO) mice, which intriguingly displayed a series of ASD-like behaviors, including impaired social novelty preference, abnormal isolation-induced pup vocalizations, elevated anxiety, and perturbed object and spatial learning. Mice with conditional deletion of Dock4 in hippocampal CA1 recapitulated social preference deficit in KO mice. Examination in CA1 pyramidal neurons revealed that excitatory synaptic transmission was drastically attenuated in KO mice, accompanied by decreased spine density and synaptic content of AMPA (α-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazolepropionic acid)- and NMDA (N-methyl-<sub>D</sub>-aspartate)-type glutamate receptors. Moreover, Dock4 deficiency markedly reduced Rac1 activity in the hippocampus, which resulted in downregulation of global protein synthesis and diminished expression of AMPA and NMDA receptor subunits. Notably, Rac1 replenishment in the hippocampal CA1 of Dock4 KO mice restored excitatory synaptic transmission and corrected impaired social deficits in these mice, and pharmacological activation of NMDA receptors also restored social novelty preference in Dock4 KO mice. Together, our findings uncover a previously unrecognized Dock4-Rac1-dependent mechanism involved in regulating hippocampal excitatory synaptic transmission and social behavior.
Project description:Mutations in the contactin-associated protein 2 (CNTNAP2) gene encoding CASPR2, a neurexin-related cell-adhesion molecule, predispose to autism, but the function of CASPR2 in neural circuit assembly remains largely unknown. In a knockdown survey of autism candidate genes, we found that CASPR2 is required for normal development of neural networks. RNAi-mediated knockdown of CASPR2 produced a cell-autonomous decrease in dendritic arborization and spine development in pyramidal neurons, leading to a global decline in excitatory and inhibitory synapse numbers and a decrease in synaptic transmission without a detectable change in the properties of these synapses. Our data suggest that in addition to the previously described role of CASPR2 in mature neurons, where CASPR2 organizes nodal microdomains of myelinated axons, CASPR2 performs an earlier organizational function in developing neurons that is essential for neural circuit assembly and operates coincident with the time of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) pathogenesis.
Project description:Loss-of-function mutations in CNTNAP2 cause a syndromic form of autism spectrum disorder in humans and produce social deficits, repetitive behaviors, and seizures in mice. However, the functional effects of these mutations at cellular and circuit levels remain elusive. Using laser-scanning photostimulation, whole-cell recordings, and electron microscopy, we found a dramatic decrease in excitatory and inhibitory synaptic inputs onto L2/3 pyramidal neurons of the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) of Cntnap2 knockout (KO) mice, concurrent with reduced spines and synapses, despite normal dendritic complexity and intrinsic excitability. Moreover, recording of mPFC local field potentials (LFPs) and unit spiking in vivo revealed increased activity in inhibitory neurons, reduced phase-locking to delta and theta oscillations, and delayed phase preference during locomotion. Excitatory neurons showed similar phase modulation changes at delta frequencies. Finally, pairwise correlations increased during immobility in KO mice. Thus, reduced synaptic inputs can yield perturbed temporal coordination of neuronal firing in cortical ensembles.
Project description:Transcription of Bdnf is controlled by multiple promoters, which drive expression of multiple transcripts encoding for the same protein. Promoter IV contributes significantly to activity-dependent brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) transcription. We have generated promoter IV mutant mice (BDNF-KIV) by inserting a GFP-STOP cassette within the Bdnf exon IV locus. This genetic manipulation results in disruption of promoter IV-mediated Bdnf expression. BDNF-KIV animals exhibited significant deficits in GABAergic interneurons in the prefrontal cortex (PFC), particularly those expressing parvalbumin, a subtype implicated in executive function and schizophrenia. Moreover, disruption of promoter IV-driven Bdnf transcription impaired inhibitory but not excitatory synaptic transmission recorded from layer V pyramidal neurons in the PFC. The attenuation of GABAergic inputs resulted in an aberrant appearance of spike-timing-dependent synaptic potentiation (STDP) in PFC slices derived from BDNF-KIV, but not wild-type littermates. These results demonstrate the importance of promoter IV-dependent Bdnf transcription in GABAergic function and reveal an unexpected regulation of STDP in the PFC by BDNF.
Project description:Stress adversely affects an array of cognitive functions. Although stress-related disorders are often addressed in adulthood, far less is known about how early-life stress (ELS) affects the developing brain in early postnatal periods. Here we show that ELS, induced by maternal separation, leads to synaptic alteration of layer 2/3 pyramidal neurons in the prefrontal cortex (PFC) of mice. We find that layer 2/3 neurons show increased excitatory synapse numbers following ELS and that this is accompanied by hyperexcitability of PFC-projecting dopamine (DA) neurons in the ventral tegmental area. Notably, excitatory synaptic change requires local signaling through DA D2 receptors. In vivo pharmacological treatment with a D2 receptor agonist in the PFC of control mice mimics the effects of ELS on synaptic alterations. Our findings reveal a neuromodulatory mechanism underlying ELS-induced PFC dysfunction, and this mechanism may facilitate a more comprehensive understanding of how ELS leads to mental disorders.
Project description:Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder, featuring social communication deficit and repetitive/restricted behaviors as common symptoms. Its prevalence has continuously increased, but, till now, there are no therapeutic approaches to relieve the core symptoms, particularly social deficit. In previous studies, abnormal function of the glutamatergic neural system has been proposed as a critical mediator and therapeutic target of ASD-associated symptoms. Here, we investigated the possible roles of ?-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazolepropionic acid receptors (AMPARs) in autism symptoms using two well-known autistic animal models, Cntnap2 knockout (KO) mice and in utero valproic acid-exposed ICR (VPA) mice. We found that Cntnap2 KO mice displayed decreased glutamate receptor expression and transmission. Contrarily, VPA mice exhibited increased glutamate receptor expression and transmission. Next, we investigated whether AMPAR modulators (positive-allosteric-modulator for Cntnap2 KO mice and antagonist for VPA mice) can improve autistic symptoms by normalizing the aberrant excitatory transmission in the respective animal models. Interestingly, the AMPAR modulation specifically ameliorated social deficits in both animal models. These results indicated that AMPAR-derived excitatory neural transmission changes can affect normal social behavior. To validate this, we injected an AMPAR agonist or antagonist in control ICR mice and, interestingly, these treatments impaired only the social behavior, without affecting the repetitive and hyperactive behaviors. Collectively, these results provide insight into the role of AMPARs in the underlying pathophysiological mechanisms of ASD, and demonstrate that modulation of AMPAR can be a potential target for the treatment of social behavior deficits associated with ASD.
Project description:Developmental alterations of excitatory synapses are implicated in autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). Here, we report increased dendritic spine density with reduced developmental spine pruning in layer V pyramidal neurons in postmortem ASD temporal lobe. These spine deficits correlate with hyperactivated mTOR and impaired autophagy. In Tsc2 ± ASD mice where mTOR is constitutively overactive, we observed postnatal spine pruning defects, blockade of autophagy, and ASD-like social behaviors. The mTOR inhibitor rapamycin corrected ASD-like behaviors and spine pruning defects in Tsc2 ± mice, but not in Atg7(CKO) neuronal autophagy-deficient mice or Tsc2 ± :Atg7(CKO) double mutants. Neuronal autophagy furthermore enabled spine elimination with no effects on spine formation. Our findings suggest that mTOR-regulated autophagy is required for developmental spine pruning, and activation of neuronal autophagy corrects synaptic pathology and social behavior deficits in ASD models with hyperactivated mTOR.