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Sci Rep. 2017 Nov 7;7(1):14755. doi: 10.1038/s41598-017-15349-x.

A translational study on looming-evoked defensive response and the underlying subcortical pathway in autism.

Hu Y1,2, Chen Z3, Huang L1,2, Xi Y1,2, Li B3, Wang H3, Yan J3, Lee TMC4,5,6, Tao Q7, So KF8,9,10,11,12, Ren C13,14,15.

Author information

1
Guangdong-Hongkong-Macau Institute of CNS Regeneration, Ministry of Education CNS Regeneration Collaborative Joint Laboratory, Jinan University, Guangzhou, 510632, China.
2
Guangdong key Laboratory of Brain Function and Diseases, Jinan University, Guangzhou, 510632, China.
3
The Center of Speech Language Disorder, The First Affiliated Hospital of Jinan University, Guangzhou, 510630, China.
4
Laboratory of Neuropsychology, The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, China.
5
Laboratory of Cognitive Affective Neuroscience, The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, China.
6
State Key Laboratory of Brain and Cognitive Science, The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, China.
7
Psychology Department, School of Medicine, Jinan University, Guangzhou, 510632, China. taoqian16@jnu.edu.cn.
8
Guangdong-Hongkong-Macau Institute of CNS Regeneration, Ministry of Education CNS Regeneration Collaborative Joint Laboratory, Jinan University, Guangzhou, 510632, China. hrmaskf@hku.hk.
9
Guangdong key Laboratory of Brain Function and Diseases, Jinan University, Guangzhou, 510632, China. hrmaskf@hku.hk.
10
State Key Laboratory of Brain and Cognitive Science, The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, China. hrmaskf@hku.hk.
11
Department of Ophthalmology, The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, China. hrmaskf@hku.hk.
12
Co-innovation Center of Neuroregeneration, Nantong University, Nantong, 226001, China. hrmaskf@hku.hk.
13
Guangdong-Hongkong-Macau Institute of CNS Regeneration, Ministry of Education CNS Regeneration Collaborative Joint Laboratory, Jinan University, Guangzhou, 510632, China. tchaoran@jnu.edu.cn.
14
Guangdong key Laboratory of Brain Function and Diseases, Jinan University, Guangzhou, 510632, China. tchaoran@jnu.edu.cn.
15
Co-innovation Center of Neuroregeneration, Nantong University, Nantong, 226001, China. tchaoran@jnu.edu.cn.

Abstract

Rapidly approaching objects indicating threats can induce defensive response through activating a subcortical pathway comprising superior colliculus (SC), lateral posterior nucleus (LP), and basolateral amygdala (BLA). Abnormal defensive response has been reported in autism, and impaired synaptic connections could be the underlying mechanism. Whether the SC-LP-BLA pathway processes looming stimuli abnormally in autism is not clear. Here, we found that looming-evoked defensive response is impaired in a subgroup of the valproic acid (VPA) mouse model of autism. By combining the conventional neurotracer and transneuronal rabies virus tracing techniques, we demonstrated that synaptic connections in the SC-LP-BLA pathway were abnormal in VPA mice whose looming-evoked defensive responses were absent. Importantly, we further translated the finding to children with autism and observed that they did not present looming-evoked defensive response. Furthermore, the findings of the DTI with the probabilistic tractography showed that the structural connections of SC-pulvinar-amygdala in autism children were weak. The pulvinar is parallel to the LP in a mouse. Because looming-evoked defensive response is innate in humans and emerges much earlier than do social and language functions, the absence of defensive response could be an earlier sign of autism in children.

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