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PLoS One. 2012;7(11):e48975. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0048975. Epub 2012 Nov 6.

Mice genetically depleted of brain serotonin display social impairments, communication deficits and repetitive behaviors: possible relevance to autism.

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  • 1Research and Development Service, John D. Dingell VA Medical Center, Detroit, Michigan, USA.

Abstract

Autism is a complex neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by impaired reciprocal social interaction, communication deficits and repetitive behaviors. A very large number of genes have been linked to autism, many of which encode proteins involved in the development and function of synaptic circuitry. However, the manner in which these mutated genes might participate, either individually or together, to cause autism is not understood. One factor known to exert extremely broad influence on brain development and network formation, and which has been linked to autism, is the neurotransmitter serotonin. Unfortunately, very little is known about how alterations in serotonin neuronal function might contribute to autism. To test the hypothesis that serotonin dysfunction can contribute to the core symptoms of autism, we analyzed mice lacking brain serotonin (via a null mutation in the gene for tryptophan hydroxylase 2 (TPH2)) for behaviors that are relevant to this disorder. Mice lacking brain serotonin (TPH2-/-) showed substantial deficits in numerous validated tests of social interaction and communication. These mice also display highly repetitive and compulsive behaviors. Newborn TPH2-/- mutant mice show delays in the expression of key developmental milestones and their diminished preference for maternal scents over the scent of an unrelated female is a forerunner of more severe socialization deficits that emerge in weanlings and persist into adulthood. Taken together, these results indicate that a hypo-serotonin condition can lead to behavioral traits that are highly characteristic of autism. Our findings should stimulate new studies that focus on determining how brain hyposerotonemia during critical neurodevelopmental periods can alter the maturation of synaptic circuits known to be mis-wired in autism and how prevention of such deficits might prevent this disorder.

PMID:
23139830
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
PMCID:
PMC3490915
Free PMC Article
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