Reduced NMDA-receptor (NMDAR) function has been implicated in the pathophysiology of neuropsychiatric disease, most strongly in schizophrenia but also recently in autism spectrum disorders (ASD). To determine the direct contribution of NMDAR dysfunction to disease phenotypes, a mouse model with constitutively reduced expression of the obligatory NR1 subunit has been developed and extensively investigated. Adult NR1neo−/− mice show multiple abnormal behaviors, including reduced social interactions, locomotor hyperactivity, self-injury, deficits in prepulse inhibition, and sensory hypersensitivity, among others. Whereas such phenotypes have largely been interpreted in the context of schizophrenia, these behavioral abnormalities are rather non-specific and are frequently present across models of diseases characterized by negative symptom domains. This study investigated auditory electrophysiological and behavioral paradigms relevant to autism, to determine whether NMDAR hypofunction may be more consistent with adult ASD-like phenotypes. Indeed, transgenic mice demonstrated behavioral deficits relevant to all core ASD symptoms, including decreased social interactions, altered ultrasonic vocalizations, and increased repetitive behaviors. NMDAR disruption recapitulated clinical endophenotypes including reduced prepulse inhibition, auditory-evoked response N1 latency delay, and reduced gamma synchrony. Auditory electrophysiological abnormalities more closely resembled those seen in clinical studies of autism than schizophrenia. These results suggest that NMDA-receptor hypofunction may be associated with a continuum of neuropsychiatric diseases, including schizophrenia and autism. Neural synchrony abnormalities suggest an imbalance of glutamatergic and GABAergic coupling and may provide a target, along with behavioral phenotypes, for preclinical screening of novel therapeutics.
Keywords: autism, mouse model, NMDA-receptor, behavior, endophenotype