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Immune activation during pregnancy exacerbates ASD-related alterations in Shank3-deficient mice.

Molecular Autism 2023 January 6
BACKGROUND: Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is mainly characterized by deficits in social interaction and communication and repetitive behaviors. Known causes of ASD are mutations of certain risk genes like the postsynaptic protein SHANK3 and environmental factors including prenatal infections.

METHODS: To analyze the gene-environment interplay in ASD, we combined the Shank3Δ11-/- ASD mouse model with maternal immune activation (MIA) via an intraperitoneal injection of polyinosinic/polycytidylic acid (Poly I:C) on gestational day 12.5. The offspring of the injected dams was further analyzed for autistic-like behaviors and comorbidities followed by biochemical experiments with a focus on synaptic analysis.

RESULTS: We show that the two-hit mice exhibit excessive grooming and deficits in social behavior more prominently than the Shank3Δ11-/- mice. Interestingly, these behavioral changes were accompanied by an unexpected upregulation of postsynaptic density (PSD) proteins at excitatory synapses in striatum, hippocampus and prefrontal cortex.

LIMITATIONS: We found several PSD proteins to be increased in the two-hit mice; however, we can only speculate about possible pathways behind the worsening of the autistic phenotype in those mice.

CONCLUSIONS: With this study, we demonstrate that there is an interplay between genetic susceptibility and environmental factors defining the severity of ASD symptoms. Moreover, we show that a general misbalance of PSD proteins at excitatory synapses is linked to ASD symptoms, making this two-hit model a promising tool for the investigation of the complex pathophysiology of neurodevelopmental disorders.

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