A synaptic trek to autism.

Human Genetics and Cognitive Functions, Institut Pasteur, 25 rue du Docteur Roux, 75015 Paris, France.
Current opinion in neurobiology (Impact Factor: 7.21). 07/2009; 19(2):231-4. DOI: 10.1016/j.conb.2009.06.003
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are diagnosed on the basis of three behavioral features namely deficits in social communication, absence or delay in language, and stereotypy. The susceptibility genes to ASD remain largely unknown, but two major pathways are emerging. Mutations in TSC1/TSC2, NF1, or PTEN activate the mTOR/PI3K pathway and lead to syndromic ASD with tuberous sclerosis, neurofibromatosis, or macrocephaly. Mutations in NLGN3/4, SHANK3, or NRXN1 alter synaptic function and lead to mental retardation, typical autism, or Asperger syndrome. The mTOR/PI3K pathway is associated with abnormal cellular/synaptic growth rate, whereas the NRXN-NLGN-SHANK pathway is associated with synaptogenesis and imbalance between excitatory and inhibitory currents. Taken together, these data strongly suggest that abnormal synaptic homeostasis represent a risk factor to ASD.

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    ABSTRACT: The process by which excitatory neurons are generated and mature during the development of the cerebral cortex occurs in a stereotyped manner; coordinated neuronal birth, migration, and differentiation during embryonic and early postnatal life are prerequisites for selective synaptic connections that mediate meaningful neurotransmission in maturity. Normal cortical function depends upon the proper elaboration of neurons, including the initial extension of cellular processes that lead to the formation of axons and dendrites and the subsequent maturation of synapses. Here, we examine the role of cell-based signaling via the receptor tyrosine kinase EphA7 in guiding the extension and maturation of cortical dendrites. EphA7, localized to dendritic shafts and spines of pyramidal cells, is uniquely expressed during cortical neuronal development. On patterned substrates, EphA7 signaling restricts dendritic extent, with Src and Tsc1 serving as downstream mediators. Perturbation of EphA7 signaling in vitro and in vivo alters dendritic elaboration: Dendrites are longer and more complex when EphA7 is absent and are shorter and simpler when EphA7 is ectopically expressed. Later in neuronal maturation, EphA7 influences protrusions from dendritic shafts and the assembling of synaptic components. Indeed, synaptic function relies on EphA7; the electrophysiological maturation of pyramidal neurons is delayed in cultures lacking EphA7, indicating that EphA7 enhances synaptic function. These results provide evidence of roles for Eph signaling, first in limiting the elaboration of cortical neuronal dendrites and then in coordinating the maturation and function of synapses.
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