Shared Synaptic Pathophysiology in Syndromic and Nonsyndromic Rodent Models of Autism

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Science  13 Sep 2012:
DOI: 10.1126/science.1224159

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The genetic heterogeneity of autism poses a major challenge for identifying mechanism-based treatments. A number of rare mutations are associated with autism, and it is unclear whether these result in common neuronal alterations. Monogenic syndromes, such as fragile X, include autism as one of their multifaceted symptoms and have revealed specific defects in synaptic plasticity. We discovered an unexpected convergence of synaptic pathophysiology in a nonsyndromic form of autism with those in fragile X syndrome. Neuroligin-3 knockout mice (a model for nonsyndromic autism) exhibited disrupted hetero-synaptic competition and perturbed metabotropic glutamate receptor-dependent synaptic plasticity, a hallmark of fragile X. These phenotypes could be rescued by re-expression of neuroligin-3 in juvenile mice, highlighting the possibility for reverting neuronal circuit alterations in autism after completion of development.

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