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J Neurosci. 2018 Jul 25;38(30):6640-6652. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0515-17.2018. Epub 2018 Jun 22.

Pharmacological Inhibition of ERK Signaling Rescues Pathophysiology and Behavioral Phenotype Associated with 16p11.2 Chromosomal Deletion in Mice.

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Department of Neurosciences, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio 44106-4928.
Functional Neuroimaging Laboratory, Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia, Center for Neuroscience and Cognitive Systems at Instituto Italiano di Tecnologia, 38068 Rovereto, Italy.
Neuroscience and Mental Health Research Institute and School of Biosciences, Cardiff University, Cardiff, United Kingdom, and.
Department of Neurosciences, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio 44106-4928,
Stark Neuroscience Research Institute, Indiana University School of Medicine, Indianapolis, Indiana 46202.


The human 16p11.2 microdeletion is one of the most common gene copy number variations linked to autism, but the pathophysiology associated with this chromosomal abnormality is largely unknown. The 593 kb deletion contains the ERK1 gene and other genes that converge onto the ERK/MAP kinase pathway. Perturbations in ERK signaling are linked to a group of related neurodevelopmental disorders hallmarked by intellectual disability, including autism. We report that mice harboring the 16p11.2 deletion exhibit a paradoxical elevation of ERK activity, cortical cytoarchitecture abnormalities and behavioral deficits. Importantly, we show that treatment with a novel ERK pathway inhibitor during a critical period of brain development rescues the molecular, anatomical and behavioral deficits in the 16p11.2 deletion mice. The ERK inhibitor treatment administered to adult mice ameliorates a subset of these behavioral deficits. Our findings provide evidence for potential targeted therapeutic intervention in 16p11.2 deletion carriers.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT The ERK/MAPK pathway is genetically linked to autism spectrum disorders and other syndromes typified by intellectual disability. We provide direct evidence connecting the ERK/MAP kinases to the developmental abnormalities in neurogenesis and cortical cytoarchitecture associated with the 16p11.2 chromosomal deletion. Most importantly, we demonstrate that treatment with a novel ERK-specific inhibitor during development rescues aberrant cortical cytoarchitecture and restores normal levels of cell-cycle regulators during cortical neurogenesis. These treatments partially reverse the behavioral deficits observed in the 16p11.2del mouse model, including hyperactivity, memory as well as olfaction, and maternal behavior. We also report a rescue of a subset of these deficits upon treatment of adult 16p11.2del mice. These data provide a strong rationale for therapeutic approaches to this disorder.


16p11; ERK MAP kinases; autism; cortical development; neurodevelopment

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