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Autism Res. 2018 Apr;11(4):587-601. doi: 10.1002/aur.1925. Epub 2018 Jan 29.

Developmental social communication deficits in the Shank3 rat model of phelan-mcdermid syndrome and autism spectrum disorder.

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University of California, Davis, MIND Institute, School of Medicine, Sacramento, CA.
Seaver Autism Center for Research and Treatment, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, NY.
Mouse Imaging Centre, The Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto, Canada.
Department of Medical Biophysics, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada.
Behavioral Neuroscience, Experimental and Biological Psychology, Philipps-University of Marburg, Gutenbergstr. 18, Marburg, D-35032, Germany.
Marburg Center for Mind, Brain, and Behavior (MCMBB), Marburg, Germany.


Mutations in the SHANK3 gene have been discovered in autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and the intellectual disability, Phelan-McDermid Syndrome. This study leveraged a new rat model of Shank3 deficiency to assess complex behavioral phenomena, unique to rats, which display a richer social behavior repertoire than mice. Uniquely detectable emissions of ultrasonic vocalizations (USV) in rats serve as situation-dependent affective signals and accomplish important communicative functions. We report, for the first time, a call and response acoustic playback assay of bidirectional social communication in juvenile Shank3 rats. Interestingly, we found that Shank3-deficient null males did not demonstrate the enhanced social approach behavior typically exhibited following playback of pro-social USV. Concomitantly, we discovered that emission of USV in response to playback was not genotype-dependent and emitted response calls were divergent in meaning. This is the first report of these socially relevant responses using a genetic model of ASD. A comprehensive and empirical analysis of vigorous play during juvenile reciprocal social interactions further revealed fewer bouts and reduced durations of time spent playing by multiple key parameters, including reduced anogenital sniffing and allogrooming. We further discovered that male null Shank3-deficient pups emitted fewer isolation-induced USV than Shank3 wildtype controls. Postnatal whole brain anatomical phenotyping was applied to visualize anatomical substrates that underlie developmental phenotypes. The data presented here lend support for the important role of Shank3 in social communication, the core symptom domain of ASD. By increasing the number of in vivo functional outcome measures, we improved the likelihood for identifying and moving forward with medical interventions. Autism Res 2018, 11: 587-601. © 2018 International Society for Autism Research, Wiley Periodicals, Inc.


Clinically relevant outcomes are required to demonstrate the utility of therapeutics. We introduce findings in a rat model, and assess the impact of mutations in Shank3, an autism risk gene. We found that males with deficient expression of Shank3 did not demonstrate typical responses in a bi-directional social communication test and that social interaction was lower on key parameters. Outcome measures reported herein extend earlier results in mice and capture responses to acoustic calls, which is analogous to measuring receptive and expressive communication.


Phelan McDermid Syndrome; animal model; autism; behavior; neurodevelopment; shank; social; synapse

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