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Genes Brain Behav. 2011 Jul;10(5):615-24. doi: 10.1111/j.1601-183X.2011.00702.x. Epub 2011 Jun 14.

Association of upregulated Ras/Raf/ERK1/2 signaling with autism.

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Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology, Nanfang Hospital, Southern Medical University, Guangzhou, China.

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Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by impairments in social interaction, verbal communication and repetitive behaviors. BTBR mouse is currently used as a model for understanding mechanisms that may be responsible for the pathogenesis of autism. Growing evidence suggests that Ras/Raf/ERK1/2 signaling plays death-promoting apoptotic roles in neural cells. Recent studies showed a possible association between neural cell death and autism. In addition, two studies reported that a deletion of a locus on chromosome 16, which includes the MAPK3 gene that encodes ERK1, is associated with autism. We thus hypothesized that Ras/Raf/ERK1/2 signaling could be abnormally regulated in the brain of BTBR mice that models autism. In this study, we show that expression of Ras protein was significantly elevated in frontal cortex and cerebellum of BTBR mice as compared with B6 mice. The phosphorylations of A-Raf, B-Raf and C-Raf were all significantly increased in frontal cortex of BTBR mice. However, only C-Raf phosphorylation was increased in the cerebellum of BTBR mice. In addition, we further detected that the activities of both MEK1/2 and ERK1/2, which are the downstream kinases of Ras/Raf signaling, were significantly enhanced in the frontal cortex. We also detected that ERK1/2 is significantly over-expressed in frontal cortex of autistic subjects. Our results indicate that Ras/Raf/ERK1/2 signaling is upregulated in the frontal cortex of BTBR mice that model autism. These findings, together with the enhanced ERK1/2 expression in autistic frontal cortex, imply that Ras/Raf/ERK1/2 signaling activities could be increased in autistic brain and involved in the pathogenesis of autism.

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