Learning, Autism, and the Synapse

Science  05 Oct 2007:
Vol. 318, Issue 5847, pp. 13f
DOI: 10.1126/science.318.5847.13f

A small number of individuals with autism harbor mutations in genes encoding neuroligins and neurexins, cell adhesion proteins that facilitate neuronal communication across synapses. Tabuchi et al. (p. 71, published online 6 September; see the Perspective by Crawley) studied the functional consequences of one of these mutations, an R451C substitution in neuroligin-3, by introducing the mutant protein into mice. The mice displayed enhanced spatial learning skills but impaired social interactions, and these behavioral changes were accompanied by a selective increase in inhibitory synaptic transmission. Thus, alterations in the balance of excitatory and inhibitory synapses can affect learning and such alterations may be a contributing factor in the pathogenesis of autism.

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