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Int J Dev Neurosci. 2003 Dec;21(8):451-9.

Abnormal serotonergic development in a mouse model for the Smith-Lemli-Opitz syndrome: implications for autism.

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  • 1Department of Cell and Developmental Biology, The University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC 27599-7178, USA.


The Smith-Lemli-Opitz syndrome (SLOS) is a malformation/mental retardation syndrome resulting from an inborn error in 3beta-hydroxysteroid Delta7-reductase (DHCR7), the terminal enzyme required for cholesterol biosynthesis. Using a targeting strategy designed to virtually eliminate Dhcr7 activity, we have created a SLOS mouse model that exhibits commissural deficiencies, hippocampal abnormalities, and hypermorphic development of serotonin (5-HT) neurons. The latter is of particular interest with respect to current evidence that serotonin plays a significant role in autism spectrum disorders and the recent clinical observation that 50% of SLOS patients present with autistic behavior. Immunohistochemical analyses have revealed a 306% increase in the area of 5-HT immunoreactivity (5-HT IR) in the hindbrains of mutant (Dhcr7-/-) mice as compared to age-matched wild type animals. Amount of 5-HT IR was measured as total area of IR per histological section. Additionally, a regional increase as high as 15-fold was observed for the most lateral sagittal hindbrain sections. In Dhcr7-/- mice, an expansion of 5-HT IR into the ventricular zone and floor plate region was observed. In addition, the rostral and caudal raphe groups exhibited a radial expansion in Dhcr7-/- mice, with 5-HT IR cells present in locations not seen in wild type mice. This increase in 5-HT IR appears to represent an increase in total number of 5-HT neurons and fibers. These observations may help explain the behavioral phenotype seen in SLOS, and provide clues for future therapeutic interventions that utilize pharmacological modulation of the serotonergic system.

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