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1.  Neuropathology of the posteroinferior occipitotemporal gyrus in children with autism 
Molecular Autism  2014;5:17.
While most neuropathologic studies focus on regions involved in behavioral abnormalities in autism, it is also important to identify whether areas that appear functionally normal are devoid of pathologic alterations. In this study we analyzed the posteroinferior occipitotemporal gyrus, an extrastriate area not considered to be affected in autism. This area borders the fusiform gyrus, which is known to exhibit functional and cellular abnormalities in autism.
No studies have implicated posteroinferior occipitotemporal gyrus dysfunction in autism, leading us to hypothesize that neuropathology would not occur in this area. We indeed observed no significant differences in pyramidal neuron number or size in layers III, V, and VI in seven pairs of autism and controls.
These findings are consistent with the hypothesis that neuropathology is unique to areas involved in stereotypies and social and emotional behaviors, and support the specificity of the localization of pathology in the fusiform gyrus.
PMCID: PMC3938306  PMID: 24564936
Autism; Fusiform gyrus; Neuropathology; Posteroinferior occipitotemporal gyrus; Stereology
2.  Optimizing the phenotyping of rodent ASD models: enrichment analysis of mouse and human neurobiological phenotypes associated with high-risk autism genes identifies morphological, electrophysiological, neurological, and behavioral features 
Molecular Autism  2012;3:1.
There is interest in defining mouse neurobiological phenotypes useful for studying autism spectrum disorders (ASD) in both forward and reverse genetic approaches. A recurrent focus has been on high-order behavioral analyses, including learning and memory paradigms and social paradigms. However, well-studied mouse models, including for example Fmr1 knockout mice, do not show dramatic deficits in such high-order phenotypes, raising a question as to what constitutes useful phenotypes in ASD models.
To address this, we made use of a list of 112 disease genes etiologically involved in ASD to survey, on a large scale and with unbiased methods as well as expert review, phenotypes associated with a targeted disruption of these genes in mice, using the Mammalian Phenotype Ontology database. In addition, we compared the results with similar analyses for human phenotypes.
We observed four classes of neurobiological phenotypes associated with disruption of a large proportion of ASD genes, including: (1) Changes in brain and neuronal morphology; (2) electrophysiological changes; (3) neurological changes; and (4) higher-order behavioral changes. Alterations in brain and neuronal morphology represent quantitative measures that can be more widely adopted in models of ASD to understand cellular and network changes. Interestingly, the electrophysiological changes differed across different genes, indicating that excitation/inhibition imbalance hypotheses for ASD would either have to be so non-specific as to be not falsifiable, or, if specific, would not be supported by the data. Finally, it was significant that in analyses of both mouse and human databases, many of the behavioral alterations were neurological changes, encompassing sensory alterations, motor abnormalities, and seizures, as opposed to higher-order behavioral changes in learning and memory and social behavior paradigms.
The results indicated that mutations in ASD genes result in defined groups of changes in mouse models and support a broad neurobiological approach to phenotyping rodent models for ASD, with a focus on biochemistry and molecular biology, brain and neuronal morphology, and electrophysiology, as well as both neurological and additional behavioral analyses. Analysis of human phenotypes associated with these genes reinforced these conclusions, supporting face validity for these approaches to phenotyping of ASD models. Such phenotyping is consistent with the successes in Fmr1 knockout mice, in which morphological changes recapitulated human findings and electrophysiological deficits resulted in molecular insights that have since led to clinical trials. We propose both broad domains and, based on expert review of more than 50 publications in each of the four neurobiological domains, specific tests to be applied to rodent models of ASD.
PMCID: PMC3337792  PMID: 22348382
Systems biology; mouse behavior; autism; autism spectrum disorders; genetically modified mice; forward genetics; reverse genetics
3.  Amyloid beta protein-induced zinc sequestration leads to synaptic loss via dysregulation of the ProSAP2/Shank3 scaffold 
Memory deficits in Alzheimer's disease (AD) manifest together with the loss of synapses caused by the disruption of the postsynaptic density (PSD), a network of scaffold proteins located in dendritic spines. However, the underlying molecular mechanisms remain elusive. Since it was shown that ProSAP2/Shank3 scaffold assembly within the PSD is Zn2+-dependent and that the amyloid beta protein (Aβ) is able to bind Zn2+, we hypothesize that sequestration of Zn2+ ions by Aβ contributes to ProSAP/Shank platform malformation.
To test this hypothesis, we designed multiple in vitro and in vivo assays demonstrating ProSAP/Shank dysregulation in rat hippocampal cultures following Aβ oligomer accumulation. These changes were independent from alterations on ProSAP/Shank transcriptional level. However, application of soluble Aβ prevented association of Zn2+ ions with ProSAP2/Shank3 in a cell-based assay and decreased the concentration of Zn2+ clusters within dendrites. Zn2+ supplementation or saturation of Aβ with Zn2+ ions prior to cell treatment was able to counter the effects induced by Aβ on synapse density and ProSAP2/Shank3 levels at the PSD. Interestingly, intracellular Zn2+ levels in APP-PS1 mice and human AD hippocampus are reduced along with a reduction in synapse density and synaptic ProSAP2/Shank3 and Shank1 protein levels.
We conclude that sequestration of Zn2+ ions by Aβ significantly contributes to changes in ProSAP2/Shank3 platforms. These changes in turn lead to less consolidated (mature) synapses reflected by a decrease in Shank1 protein levels at the PSD and decreased synapse density in hippocampal neurons.
PMCID: PMC3189132  PMID: 21939532
PSD; Alzheimer's disease; ProSAP2; Shank3; Shank1; Amyloid; Oligomers; Zn2+; Hippocampus; synapse
4.  Haploinsufficiency of the autism-associated Shank3 gene leads to deficits in synaptic function, social interaction, and social communication 
Molecular Autism  2010;1:15.
SHANK3 is a protein in the core of the postsynaptic density (PSD) and has a critical role in recruiting many key functional elements to the PSD and to the synapse, including components of α-amino-3-hydroxyl-5-methyl-4-isoxazole-propionic acid (AMPA), metabotropic glutamate (mGlu) and N-methyl-D-aspartic acid (NMDA) glutamate receptors, as well as cytoskeletal elements. Loss of a functional copy of the SHANK3 gene leads to the neurobehavioral manifestations of 22q13 deletion syndrome and/or to autism spectrum disorders. The goal of this study was to examine the effects of haploinsufficiency of full-length Shank3 in mice, focusing on synaptic development, transmission and plasticity, as well as on social behaviors, as a model for understanding SHANK3 haploinsufficiency in humans.
We used mice with a targeted disruption of Shank3 in which exons coding for the ankyrin repeat domain were deleted and expression of full-length Shank3 was disrupted. We studied synaptic transmission and plasticity by multiple methods, including patch-clamp whole cell recording, two-photon time-lapse imaging and extracellular recordings of field excitatory postsynaptic potentials. We also studied the density of GluR1-immunoreactive puncta in the CA1 stratum radiatum and carried out assessments of social behaviors.
In Shank3 heterozygous mice, there was reduced amplitude of miniature excitatory postsynaptic currents from hippocampal CA1 pyramidal neurons and the input-output (I/O) relationship at Schaffer collateral-CA1 synapses in acute hippocampal slices was significantly depressed; both of these findings indicate a reduction in basal neurotransmission. Studies with specific inhibitors demonstrated that the decrease in basal transmission reflected reduced AMPA receptor-mediated transmission. This was further supported by the observation of reduced numbers of GluR1-immunoreactive puncta in the stratum radiatum. Long-term potentiation (LTP), induced either with θ-burst pairing (TBP) or high-frequency stimulation, was impaired in Shank3 heterozygous mice, with no significant change in long-term depression (LTD). In concordance with the LTP results, persistent expansion of spines was observed in control mice after TBP-induced LTP; however, only transient spine expansion was observed in Shank3 heterozygous mice. Male Shank3 heterozygotes displayed less social sniffing and emitted fewer ultrasonic vocalizations during interactions with estrus female mice, as compared to wild-type littermate controls.
We documented specific deficits in synaptic function and plasticity, along with reduced reciprocal social interactions in Shank3 heterozygous mice. Our results are consistent with altered synaptic development and function in Shank3 haploinsufficiency, highlighting the importance of Shank3 in synaptic function and supporting a link between deficits in synapse function and neurodevelopmental disorders. The reduced glutamatergic transmission that we observed in the Shank3 heterozygous mice represents an interesting therapeutic target in Shank3-haploinsufficiency syndromes.
PMCID: PMC3019144  PMID: 21167025
5.  Novel cerebrovascular pathology in mice fed a high cholesterol diet 
Hypercholesterolemia causes atherosclerosis in medium to large sized arteries. Cholesterol is less known for affecting the microvasculature and has not been previously reported to induce microvascular pathology in the central nervous system (CNS).
Mice with a null mutation in the low-density lipoprotein receptor (LDLR) gene as well as C57BL/6J mice fed a high cholesterol diet developed a distinct microvascular pathology in the CNS that differs from cholesterol-induced atherosclerotic disease. Microvessel diameter was increased but microvascular density and length were not consistently affected. Degenerative changes and thickened vascular basement membranes were present ultrastructurally. The observed pathology shares features with the microvascular pathology of Alzheimer's disease (AD), including the presence of string-like vessels. Brain apolipoprotein E levels which have been previously found to be elevated in LDLR-/- mice were also increased in C57BL/6J mice fed a high cholesterol diet.
In addition to its effects as an inducer of atherosclerosis in medium to large sized arteries, hypercholesterolemia also induces a microvascular pathology in the CNS that shares features of the vascular pathology found in AD. These observations suggest that high cholesterol may induce microvascular disease in a range of CNS disorders including AD.
PMCID: PMC2774302  PMID: 19852847
6.  Dietary composition modulates brain mass and solubilizable Aβ levels in a mouse model of aggressive Alzheimer's amyloid pathology 
Alzheimer's disease (AD) is a progressive neurodegenerative disease of the central nervous system (CNS). Recently, an increased interest in the role diet plays in the pathology of AD has resulted in a focus on the detrimental effects of diets high in cholesterol and fat and the beneficial effects of caloric restriction. The current study examines how dietary composition modulates cerebral amyloidosis and neuronal integrity in the TgCRND8 mouse model of AD.
From 4 wks until 18 wks of age, male and female TgCRND8 mice were maintained on one of four diets: (1) reference (regular) commercial chow; (2) high fat/low carbohydrate custom chow (60 kcal% fat/30 kcal% protein/10 kcal% carbohydrate); (3) high protein/low carbohydrate custom chow (60 kcal% protein/30 kcal% fat/10 kcal% carbohydrate); or (4) high carbohydrate/low fat custom chow (60 kcal% carbohydrate/30 kcal% protein/10 kcal% fat). At age 18 wks, mice were sacrificed, and brains studied for (a) wet weight; (b) solubilizable Aβ content by ELISA; (c) amyloid plaque burden; (d) stereologic analysis of selected hippocampal subregions.
Animals receiving a high fat diet showed increased brain levels of solubilizable Aβ, although we detected no effect on plaque burden. Unexpectedly, brains of mice fed a high protein/low carbohydrate diet were 5% lower in weight than brains from all other mice. In an effort to identify regions that might link loss of brain mass to cognitive function, we studied neuronal density and volume in hippocampal subregions. Neuronal density and volume in the hippocampal CA3 region of TgCRND8 mice tended to be lower in TgCRND8 mice receiving the high protein/low carbohydrate diet than in those receiving the regular chow. Neuronal density and volume were preserved in CA1 and in the dentate gyrus.
Dissociation of Aβ changes from brain mass changes raises the possibility that diet plays a role not only in modulating amyloidosis but also in modulating neuronal vulnerability. However, in the absence of a study of the effects of a high protein/low carbohydrate diet on nontransgenic mice, one cannot be certain how much, if any, of the loss of brain mass exhibited by high protein/low carbohydrate diet-fed TgCRND8 mice was due to an interaction between cerebral amyloidosis and diet. Given the recent evidence that certain factors favor the maintenance of cognitive function in the face of substantial structural neuropathology, we propose that there might also exist factors that sensitize brain neurons to some forms of neurotoxicity, including, perhaps, amyloid neurotoxicity. Identification of these factors could help reconcile the poor clinicopathological correlation between cognitive status and structural neuropathology, including amyloid pathology.
PMCID: PMC2775731  PMID: 19845940

Results 1-6 (6)