SLC25A12, a susceptibility gene for autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) that is mutated in a neurodevelopmental syndrome, encodes a mitochondrial aspartate/glutamate carrier (AGC1). AGC1 is an important component of the malate/aspartate shuttle, a crucial system supporting oxidative phosphorylation and ATP production.
We characterized mice with a disruption of the Slc25a12 gene, followed by confirmatory in vitro studies.
Slc25a12-knockout mice, which showed no AGC1 by immunoblotting, were born normally but displayed delayed development and died around 3 weeks after birth. In P13-14 knockout brains, the brains were smaller with no obvious alteration in gross structure. However, we found a reduction in myelin basic protein (MBP)-positive fibers, consistent with a previous report. Furthermore, the neocortex of knockout mice contained abnormal neurofilamentous accumulations in neurons, suggesting defective axonal transport and/or neurodegeneration. Slice cultures prepared from knockout mice also showed a myelination defect, and reduction of Slc25a12 in rat primary oligodendrocytes led to a cellautonomous reduction in MBP expression. Myelin deficits in slice cultures from knockout mice could be reversed by administration of pyruvate, indicating that reduction in AGC1 activity leads to reduced production of aspartate/N-acetyl aspartate (NAA) and/or alterations in the NADH/NAD+ ratio, resulting in myelin defects.
Our data implicate AGC1 activity in myelination and in neuronal structure, and indicate that while loss of AGC1 leads to hypomyelination and neuronal changes, subtle alterations in AGC1 expression could affect brain development contributing to increased autism susceptibility.