New mouse model for autism: Mutated gene causes parts of the brain to degenerate, leading to behavioral deficits / Geneticists from Heidelberg publish study in Molecular Psychiatry / Better understanding can help deal with disease
Geneticists at Heidelberg University Hospital’s Department of Molecular Human Genetics have used a new mouse model to demonstrate the way a certain genetic mutation is linked to a type of autism in humans and affects brain development and behavior.
In the brain of genetically altered mice, the protein FOXP1 is not synthesized, which is also the case for individuals with a certain form of autism. Consequently, after birth the brain structures degenerate that play a key role in perception. The mice also exhibited abnormal behavior that is typical of autism. The new mouse model now allows the molecular mechanisms in which FOXP1 plays a role to be explained and the associated changes in the brain to be better understood.
“While these kinds of results from basic research cannot be directly translated into treatment, they are still quite valuable for the affected individuals or in this case, for their parents and family. For many of them, it is important to be able to specifically put a name to the disorder and understand it. It can make dealing with it easier,” said Professor Gudrun Rappold, Head of the Department of Molecular Human Genetics at Heidelberg University Hospital and senior author of the article.
The results have now been published in a preliminary online version in the journal Molecular Psychiatry in cooperation with Miriam Schneider, Institute of Psychopharmacology at the Central Institute of Mental Health in Mannheim, and Dr. Corentin Le Magueresse, German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) and Professor Hannah Monyer, Department of Clinical Neurobiology, Heidelberg University Hospital and DKFZ in Heidelberg.
Autism is a congenital perception and information-processing disorder in the brain that is frequently accompanied by intellectual disability and in rare cases, superior intelligence and special gifts such as photographic memory. The disorder is characterized by limited social interaction, repetitive behavior and language impairment. Furthermore, a wide range of other disturbances can occur. “Today, in addition to the defect in the FOXP1 gene, we are familiar with other genetic mutations that cause autism or increase the risk of this kind of disorder. However, we are only able to understand how they affect the molecular processes in the neurons, brain development and behavior for a few of these mutations,” Rappold said.
This is also the case for FOXP1. Back in 2010, clear signs that structural flaws in this protein play a role in autism and mental disability had been discovered. But what role does it play in the healthy brain? What signal pathways is it involved in? Which other proteins does it interact with and exactly what damage is caused by its absence?
The new mouse model has helped to shed light on these questions. The researchers discovered that the mice were born with a normally developed brain for the most part. During the course of the first weeks of life, the striatum, which is important for perception and behavior, degenerates. In a centrally located brain structure as well – the hippocampus – which is indispensable for developing long-term memory and recall, microscopically visible changes occur that can also impact signal processing. It could be proven, for example, that in the affected neurons the impulse conduction is changed through which signals are transmitted between neurons.
In addition to the striatum, the ventricles of the brain are degenerated; these are adjacent structures in the murine brain. “Enlarged ventricles were also detected in humans with a FOXP1 mutation,” explained Dr. Claire Bacon, who works in the Molecular Human Genetics Department and is first author of the publication. The changes also trigger abnormal behavior that is comparable to the symptoms of autistic patients. The mice barely noticed their fellow mice and did not attempt to make contact to them. Further symptoms include stereotypical compulsive repetitive behaviors, hyperactivity and disturbed nestbuilding behavior.
The researchers now intend to study to what extent the communication of noise by FOXP1 mice (mice communicate via noises in the ultrasonic range) is impaired and whether there are also parallels to the disturbances in patients with FOXP1 mutation in this area as well. In addition, they plan to characterize the newly identified genes impacted by the FOXP1 in the brain and find out which signaling cascades and response paths are disrupted. In this way, they hope to find starting points for a specific treatment. “However, we first have to understand exactly how these changes occur before we can develop treatment concepts,” Rappold stressed.
Brain-specific Foxp1 deletion impairs neuronal development and causes autistic-like behaviour. Bacon C, Schneider M, Le Magueresse C, Froehlich H, Sticht C, Gluch C, Monyer H, Rappold GA. Mol Psychiatry. 2014 Sep 30. doi:10.1038/mp.2014.116. [Epub ahead of print]
The distinct and overlapping phenotypic spectra of FOXP1 and FOXP2 in cognitive disorders. Bacon C, Rappold GA Hum Genet. 2012;131(11):1687-98.
More information is available on the Web:
Department of Molecular Human Genetics
Website of the FOXP1 Community
Professor Gudrun Rappold
Department of Molecular Human Genetics
Heidelberg University Hospital
Tel.: 06221 / 56 50 59
Heidelberg University Hospital and Medical Faculty:
Internationally recognized patient care, research, and teaching
Heidelberg University Hospital is one of the largest and most prestigious medical centers in Germany. The Medical Faculty of Heidelberg University belongs to the internationally most renowned biomedical research institutions in Europe. Both institutions have the common goal of developing new therapies and implementing them rapidly for patients. With about 12,600 employees, training and qualification is an important issue. Every year, around 66,000 patients are treated on an inpatient basis and around 1.000.000 cases on an outpatient basis in more than 50 clinics and departments with 1,900 beds. Currently, about 3,500 future physicians are studying in Heidelberg; the reform Heidelberg Curriculum Medicinale (HeiCuMed) is one of the top medical training programs in Germany.
Requests by journalists:
Corporate Communication/Public Relations
University Hospital and
Medical Faculty of Heidelberg
Im Neuenheimer Feld 672
phone: +49 6221 / 56 70 71
fax: +49 6221 / 56 45 44
Selected english press releases online:
Julia Bird | idw - Informationsdienst Wissenschaft
Nanoparticle Exposure Can Awaken Dormant Viruses in the Lungs
16.01.2017 | Helmholtz Zentrum München - Deutsches Forschungszentrum für Gesundheit und Umwelt
Cholera bacteria infect more effectively with a simple twist of shape
13.01.2017 | Princeton University
Laser-driving of semimetals allows creating novel quasiparticle states within condensed matter systems and switching between different states on ultrafast time scales
Studying properties of fundamental particles in condensed matter systems is a promising approach to quantum field theory. Quasiparticles offer the opportunity...
Among the general public, solar thermal energy is currently associated with dark blue, rectangular collectors on building roofs. Technologies are needed for aesthetically high quality architecture which offer the architect more room for manoeuvre when it comes to low- and plus-energy buildings. With the “ArKol” project, researchers at Fraunhofer ISE together with partners are currently developing two façade collectors for solar thermal energy generation, which permit a high degree of design flexibility: a strip collector for opaque façade sections and a solar thermal blind for transparent sections. The current state of the two developments will be presented at the BAU 2017 trade fair.
As part of the “ArKol – development of architecturally highly integrated façade collectors with heat pipes” project, Fraunhofer ISE together with its partners...
At TU Wien, an alternative for resource intensive formwork for the construction of concrete domes was developed. It is now used in a test dome for the Austrian Federal Railways Infrastructure (ÖBB Infrastruktur).
Concrete shells are efficient structures, but not very resource efficient. The formwork for the construction of concrete domes alone requires a high amount of...
Many pathogens use certain sugar compounds from their host to help conceal themselves against the immune system. Scientists at the University of Bonn have now, in cooperation with researchers at the University of York in the United Kingdom, analyzed the dynamics of a bacterial molecule that is involved in this process. They demonstrate that the protein grabs onto the sugar molecule with a Pac Man-like chewing motion and holds it until it can be used. Their results could help design therapeutics that could make the protein poorer at grabbing and holding and hence compromise the pathogen in the host. The study has now been published in “Biophysical Journal”.
The cells of the mouth, nose and intestinal mucosa produce large quantities of a chemical called sialic acid. Many bacteria possess a special transport system...
UMD, NOAA collaboration demonstrates suitability of in-orbit datasets for weather satellite calibration
"Traffic and weather, together on the hour!" blasts your local radio station, while your smartphone knows the weather halfway across the world. A network of...
10.01.2017 | Event News
09.01.2017 | Event News
05.01.2017 | Event News
17.01.2017 | Earth Sciences
17.01.2017 | Machine Engineering
17.01.2017 | Physics and Astronomy