Neuroanatomically precise, genome-wide maps of transcript distributions are critical resources to complement genomic sequence data and to correlate functional and genetic brain architecture. Here we describe the generation and analysis of a transcriptional atlas of the adult human brain, comprising extensive histological analysis and comprehensive microarray profiling of ~900 neuroanatomically precise subdivisions in two individuals. Transcriptional regulation varies enormously by anatomical location, with different regions and their constituent cell types displaying robust molecular signatures that are highly conserved between individuals. Analysis of differential gene expression and gene co-expression relationships demonstrates that brain-wide variation strongly reflects the distributions of major cell classes such as neurons, oligodendrocytes, astrocytes and microglia. Local neighbourhood relationships between fine anatomical subdivisions are associated with discrete neuronal subtypes and genes involved with synaptic transmission. The neocortex displays a relatively homogeneous transcriptional pattern, but with distinct features associated selectively with primary sensorimotor cortices and with enriched frontal lobe expression. Notably, the spatial topography of the neocortex is strongly reflected in its molecular topography— the closer two cortical regions, the more similar their transcriptomes. This freely accessible online data resource forms a high-resolution transcriptional baseline for neurogenetic studies of normal and abnormal human brain function.
Neuroscience; Genetics; Genomics; Databases
Given the rapid rate of population aging and the increased incidence of cognitive decline and neurodegenerative diseases with advanced age, it is important to ascertain the determinants that result in cognitive impairment. It is also important to note that some many of the aged population exhibit ‘successful’ cognitive aging, in which cognitive impairment is minimal. One main goal of normal aging studies is to distinguish the neural changes that occur in unsuccessful (functionally impaired) subjects from those of successful (functionally unimpaired) subjects. In this review, we present some of the structural adaptations that neurons and spines undergo throughout normal aging and discuss their likely contributions to electrophysiological properties and cognition. Structural changes of neurons and dendritic spines during aging, and the functional consequences of such changes, remain poorly understood. Elucidating the structural and functional synaptic age-related changes that lead to cognitive impairment may lead to the development of drug treatments that can restore or protect neural circuits and mediate cognition and successful aging.
The primate cerebral cortex is characterized by regional variation in the structure of pyramidal neurons, with more complex dendritic arbors and greater spine density observed in prefrontal compared with sensory and motor cortices. Although there are several investigations in humans and other primates, virtually nothing is known about regional variation in the morphology of pyramidal neurons in the cerebral cortex of great apes, humans' closest living relatives. The current study uses the rapid Golgi stain to quantify the dendritic structure of layer III pyramidal neurons in 4 areas of the chimpanzee cerebral cortex: Primary somatosensory (area 3b), primary motor (area 4), prestriate visual (area 18), and prefrontal (area 10) cortex. Consistent with previous studies in humans and macaque monkeys, pyramidal neurons in the prefrontal cortex of chimpanzees exhibit greater dendritic complexity than those in other cortical regions, suggesting that prefrontal cortical evolution in primates is characterized by increased potential for integrative connectivity. Compared with chimpanzees, the pyramidal neurons of humans had significantly longer and more branched dendritic arbors in all cortical regions.
area 10; dendrites; evolution; Golgi; primate cerebral cortex
We examined the distribution of neurons immunoreactive for neuropeptide Y (NPY) in the posterior part of the superior temporal cortex (Brodmann's area 22 or area Tpt) of humans and nonhuman haplorrhine primates. NPY has been implicated in learning and memory and the density of NPY-expressing cortical neurons and axons is reduced in depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and Alzheimer's disease. Due to the role that NPY plays in both cognition and neurodegenerative diseases, we tested the hypothesis that the density of cortical and interstitial neurons expressing NPY was increased in humans relative to other primate species. The study sample included great apes (chimpanzee and gorilla), Old World monkeys (pigtailed macaque, moor macaque, and baboon) and New World monkeys (squirrel monkey and capuchin). Stereologic methods were used to estimate the density of NPY-immunoreactive (-ir) neurons in layers I-VI of area Tpt and the subjacent white matter. Adjacent Nissl-stained sections were used to calculate local densities of all neurons. The ratio of NPY-ir neurons to total neurons within area Tpt and the total density of NPY-ir neurons within the white matter were compared among species. Overall, NPY-ir neurons represented only an average of 0.006% of the total neuron population. While there were significant differences among species, phylogenetic trends in NPY-ir neuron distributions were not observed and humans did not differ from other primates. However, variation among species warrants further investigation into the distribution of this neuromodulator system.
Wernicke's area; area Tpt; area 22; evolution; NPY
Both cognitive and affective processes require mental resources. However, it remains unclear whether these 2 processes work in parallel or in an integrated fashion. In this functional magnetic resonance imaging study, we investigated their interaction using an empathy-for-pain paradigm, with simultaneous manipulation of cognitive demand of the tasks and emotional valence of the stimuli. Eighteen healthy adult participants viewed photographs showing other people's hands and feet in painful or nonpainful situations while performing tasks of low (body part judgment) and high (laterality judgment) cognitive demand. Behavioral data showed increased reaction times and error rates for painful compared with nonpainful stimuli under laterality judgment relative to body part judgment, indicating an interaction between cognitive demand and stimulus valence. Imaging analyses showed activity in bilateral anterior insula (AI) and primary somatosensory cortex (SI), but not posterior insula, for main effects of cognitive demand and stimulus valence. Importantly, cognitive demand and stimulus valence showed a significant interaction in AI, SI, and regions of the frontoparietal network. These results suggest that cognitive and emotional processes at least partially share common brain networks and that AI might serve as a key node in a brain network subserving cognition–emotion integration.
cognition; emotion; empathy; fMRI; insula
The corpus callosum (CC) is the major white matter tract that connects the two cerebral hemispheres. Some have theorized that individual differences in behavioral and brain asymmetries are linked to variation in the density of axon fibers that traverse different sections of the CC. In this study, we examined whether variation in axon fiber density in the CC was associated with variation in asymmetries in the planum temporale (PT) in a sample of 20 post-mortem chimpanzee brains. We further tested for sex differences in small and large CC fiber proportions and density in the chimpanzees. We found that the distribution of small and large fibers within the CC of chimpanzees follows a similar pattern to those reported in humans. We also found that chimpanzees with larger asymmetries in the PT had fewer large fibers in the posterior portion of the CC, particularly among females. As has been reported in human brains, the findings reported here indicate that individual differences in brain asymmetries are associated with variation in interhemispheric connectivity as manifest in axon fiber density and size.
Chimpanzees; brain asymmetry; corpus callosum; axon fiber density; planum temporale
Empathy refers to the ability to perceive and share another person’s affective state. Much neuroimaging evidence suggests that observing others’ suffering and pain elicits activations of the anterior insular and the anterior cingulate cortices associated with subjective empathetic responses in the observer. However, these observations do not provide causal evidence for the respective roles of anterior insular and anterior cingulate cortices in empathetic pain. Therefore, whether these regions are ‘necessary’ for empathetic pain remains unknown. Herein, we examined the perception of others’ pain in patients with anterior insular cortex or anterior cingulate cortex lesions whose locations matched with the anterior insular cortex or anterior cingulate cortex clusters identified by a meta-analysis on neuroimaging studies of empathetic pain perception. Patients with focal anterior insular cortex lesions displayed decreased discrimination accuracy and prolonged reaction time when processing others’ pain explicitly and lacked a typical interference effect of empathetic pain on the performance of a pain-irrelevant task. In contrast, these deficits were not observed in patients with anterior cingulate cortex lesions. These findings reveal that only discrete anterior insular cortex lesions, but not anterior cingulate cortex lesions, result in deficits in explicit and implicit pain perception, supporting a critical role of anterior insular cortex in empathetic pain processing. Our findings have implications for a wide range of neuropsychiatric illnesses characterized by prominent deficits in higher-level social functioning.
anterior cingulate cortex; anterior insular cortex; empathy; meta-analysis; necessity
The amyloid precursor protein (APP) plays a critical role in Alzheimer’s disease (AD) pathogenesis. APP is proteolytically cleaved by β- and γ-secretases to generate the amyloid β-protein (Aβ), the core protein component of senile plaques in AD. It is also cleaved by α-secretase to release the large soluble APP (sAPP) luminal domain that has been shown to exhibit trophic properties. Increasing evidence points to the development of synaptic deficits and dendritic spine loss prior to deposition of amyloid in transgenic mouse models that overexpress APP and Aβ peptides. The consequence of loss of APP, however, is unsettled. In this study, we investigated whether APP itself plays a role in regulating synaptic structure and function using an APP knock-out (APP−/−) mouse model. We examined dendritic spines in primary cultures of hippocampal neurons and CA1 neurons of hippocampus from APP−/− mice. In the cultured neurons, there was a significant decrease (~35%) in spine density in neurons derived from APP−/− mice compared to littermate control neurons that were partially restored with sAPPα-conditioned medium. In APP−/− mice in vivo, spine numbers were also significantly reduced but by a smaller magnitude (~15%). Furthermore, apical dendritic length and dendritic arborization were markedly diminished in hippocampal neurons. These abnormalities in neuronal morphology were accompanied by reduction in long-term potentiation. Strikingly, all these changes in vivo were only seen in mice that were 12-15 months in age but not in younger animals. We propose that APP, specifically sAPP, is necessary for the maintenance of dendritic integrity in the hippocampus in an age-associated manner. Finally, these age-related changes may contribute to Alzheimer’s changes independent of Aβ-mediated synaptic toxicity.
Alzheimer’s disease; amyloid precursor protein; knock-out mice; extracellular domain; soluble amyloid β; synapse
Although there have been major advances in elucidating the functional biology of the human brain, relatively little is known of its cellular and molecular organization. Here we report a large-scale characterization of the expression of ~1,000 genes important for neural functions, by in situ hybridization with cellular resolution in visual and temporal cortices of adult human brains. These data reveal diverse gene expression patterns and remarkable conservation of each individual gene’s expression among individuals (95%), cortical areas (84%), and between human and mouse (79%). A small but substantial number of genes (21%) exhibited species-differential expression. Distinct molecular signatures, comprised of genes both common between species and unique to each, were identified for each major cortical cell type. The data suggest that gene expression profile changes may contribute to differential cortical function across species, in particular, a shift from corticosubcortical to more predominant corticocortical communications in the human brain.
Whole-cell patch-clamp recordings and high-resolution 3D morphometric analyses of layer 3 pyramidal neurons in in vitro slices of monkey primary visual cortex (V1) and dorsolateral granular prefrontal cortex (dlPFC) revealed that neurons in these two brain areas possess highly distinctive structural and functional properties. Area V1 pyramidal neurons are much smaller than dlPFC neurons, with significantly less extensive dendritic arbors and far fewer dendritic spines. Relative to dlPFC neurons, V1 neurons have a significantly higher input resistance, depolarized resting membrane potential and higher action potential (AP) firing rates. Most V1 neurons exhibit both phasic and regular-spiking tonic AP firing patterns, while dlPFC neurons exhibit only tonic firing. Spontaneous postsynaptic currents are lower in amplitude and have faster kinetics in V1 than in dlPFC neurons, but are no different in frequency. Three-dimensional reconstructions of V1 and dlPFC neurons were incorporated into computational models containing Hodgkin-Huxley and AMPA- and GABAA-receptor gated channels. Morphology alone largely accounted for observed passive physiological properties, but led to AP firing rates that differed more than observed empirically, and to synaptic responses that opposed empirical results. Accordingly, modeling predicts that active channel conductances differ between V1 and dlPFC neurons. The unique features of V1 and dlPFC neurons are likely fundamental determinants of area-specific network behavior. The compact electrotonic arbor and increased excitability of V1 neurons support the rapid signal integration required for early processing of visual information. The greater connectivity and dendritic complexity of dlPFC neurons likely support higher level cognitive functions including working memory and planning.
Amyloid precursor protein (APP), the parent molecule to amyloid β peptide, is part of larger gene family with two mammalian homologues, amyloid precursor-like protein 1 (APLP1) and amyloid precursor-like protein 2 (APLP2). Initial knock-out studies demonstrated that while single APP family gene deletions produced relatively mild phenotypes, deficiency of APLP2 and one other member of the gene family resulted in perinatal lethality, suggesting vital roles masked by functional redundancy of the other homologues. Because of the importance of APP in Alzheimer’s disease, the vast majority of studies to date have concentrated on the neuronal functions of APP, leaving limited data on its homologues. APLP2 is of particular interest as it contains high sequence homology with APP, is processed similarly, is expressed in overlapping spatial and temporal patterns, and is obligatory for lethality when combined with deficiency of either APLP1 or APP but does not contain the toxic amyloid β sequence. Here we sought to test the role of APLP2 on neuronal structure and function using a combined approach involving in vitro and in vivo techniques in young and aged animals. Surprisingly, we found that unlike APP, APLP2 appears not to be essential for maintenance of dendritic structure, spiny density, or synaptic function. Thus, there is clear divergence in the functional redundancy between APP and APLP2.
amyloid precursor-like protein 2; amyloid precursor protein; Alzheimer’s disease; synaptic plasticity; dendritic spine; synapse
Although possible sources and functions of the resting state networks (RSN) of the brain have been proposed, most evidence relies on circular logic and reverse inference. We propose that autonomic arousal provides an objective index of psychophysiological states during rest that may also function as a driving source of the activity and connectivity of RSN. Recording blood oxygenation level-dependent (BOLD) signal using functional magnetic resonance imaging and skin conductance simultaneously during rest in human subjects, we found that the spontaneous fluctuations of BOLD signals in key nodes of RSN are associated with changes in non-specific skin conductance response, a sensitive psychophysiological index of autonomic arousal. Our findings provide evidence of an important role for the autonomic nervous system to the spontaneous activity of the brain during ‘rest’.
resting-state functional connectivity MRI; autonomic arousal; skin conductance response; interoception; consciousness
The general organization of neocortical connectivity in rhesus monkey is relatively well understood. However, mounting evidence points to an organizing principle that involves clustered synapses at the level of individual dendrites. Several synaptic plasticity studies have reported cooperative interaction between neighboring synapses on a given dendritic branch, which may potentially induce synapse clusters. Additionally, theoretical models have predicted that such cooperativity is advantageous, in that it greatly enhances a neuron’s computational repertoire. However, largely because of the lack of sufficient morphologic data, the existence of clustered synapses in neurons on a global scale has never been established. The majority of excitatory synapses are found within dendritic spines. In this study, we demonstrate that spine clusters do exist on pyramidal neurons by analyzing the three-dimensional locations of ~40,000 spines on 280 apical dendritic branches in layer III of the rhesus monkey prefrontal cortex. By using clustering algorithms and Monte Carlo simulations, we quantify the probability that the observed extent of clustering does not occur randomly. This provides a measure that tests for spine clustering on a global scale, whenever high-resolution morphologic data are available. Here we demonstrate that spine clusters occur significantly more frequently than expected by pure chance and that spine clustering is concentrated in apical terminal branches. These findings indicate that spine clustering is driven by systematic biological processes. We also found that mushroom-shaped and stubby spines are predominant in clusters on dendritic segments that display prolific clustering, independently supporting a causal link between spine morphology and synaptic clustering.
clustering; dendritic spines; plasticity; morphology; image analysis
While early 1990s reports showed the phosphorylation pattern of fetal tau protein to be similar to that of tau in paired helical filaments (PHF) in Alzheimer’s disease (AD), neither the molecular mechanisms of the transient developmental hyperphosphorylation of tau nor reactivation of the fetal plasticity due to re-expression of fetal protein kinases in the aging and AD human brain have been sufficiently investigated. Here, we summarize the current knowledge on fetal tau, adding new data on the specific patterns of tau protein and mRNA expression in the developing human brain as well as on change in tau phosphorylation in the perforant pathway after entorhinal cortex lesion in mice. As fetal tau isoform does not form PHF even in a highly phosphorylated state, understanding its expression and post-translational modifications represents an important avenue for future research towards the development of AD treatment and prevention.
Ageing; Brain development; Paired helical filaments-PHF; Mild cognitive impairment; Tau potein kinases; Deafferentation; Entorhinal cortex lesion
Aberrations in epigenetic marks have been associated with aging of the brain while caloric restriction (CR) and upregulation of endogenous antioxidants have been suggested as tools to attenuate the aging process. We have recently observed age-related increases in levels of 5-methylcytidine (5-mC) and DNA methyltransferase 3a (Dnmt3a) in the mouse hippocampus. Most of those age-related changes in these epigenetic relevant markers were prevented by CR but not by transgenic overexpression of the endogenous antioxidant superoxide dismutase 1 (SOD1). As recent work has suggested a distinct role for hydroxymethylation in epigenetic regulation of gene expression in the brain, the current study investigated age-related changes of 5-hydroxymethylcytosine (5-hmC) in the mouse hippocampus, and furthermore tested whether CR and transgenic upregulation of SOD1 affected any age-related changes in 5-hmC. Immunohistochemical analyses of 5-hmC in 12- and 24-month-old wild-type and transgenic mice overexpressing SOD1, which were kept under either a control or a calorie restricted diet, revealed an increase of 5-hmC immunoreactivity occurring with aging in the hippocampal dentate gyrus, CA3 and CA1–2 regions. Moreover, CR, but not overexpression of SOD1, prevented the age-related increase in the CA3 region. These region-specific findings indicate that the aging process in mice is connected with epigenetic changes and suggest that the beneficial actions of CR may be mediated via epigenetic mechanisms such as methylation and hydroxymethylation of DNA.
Aging; Epigenesis; Epigenetics; DNA hydroxymethylation; 5-hydroxymethylcytosine; Caloric restriction; Antioxidants; superoxide dismutase (SOD); Hippocampus
Clinicopathologic correlation studies are critically important for the field of Alzheimer disease (AD) research. Studies on human subjects with autopsy confirmation entail numerous potential biases that affect both their general applicability and the validity of the correlations. Many sources of data variability can weaken the apparent correlation between cognitive status and AD neuropathologic changes. Indeed, most persons in advanced old age have significant non-AD brain lesions that may alter cognition independently of AD. Worldwide research efforts have evaluated thousands of human subjects to assess the causes of cognitive impairment in the elderly, and these studies have been interpreted in different ways. We review the literature focusing on the correlation of AD neuropathologic changes (i.e. β-amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles) with cognitive impairment. We discuss the various patterns of brain changes that have been observed in elderly individuals to provide a perspective for understanding AD clinicopathologic correlation and conclude that evidence from many independent research centers strongly supports the existence of a specific disease, as defined by the presence of Aβ plaques and neurofibrillary tangles. Although Aβ plaques may play a key role in AD pathogenesis, the severity of cognitive impairment correlates best with the burden of neocortical neurofibrillary tangles.
Aging; Alzheimer disease; Amyloid; Dementia; Epidemiology; Neuropathology; MAPT; Neurofibrillary tangles
Increased connectivity of higher-order association regions in the neocortex has been proposed as a defining feature of human brain evolution. At present, however, there are limited comparative data to examine this claim fully. We tested the hypothesis that the distribution of neuropil across areas of the neocortex of humans differs from that of one of our closest living relatives, the common chimpanzee. The neuropil provides a proxy measure of total connectivity within a local region because it is comprised mostly of dendrites, axons, and synapses. Using image analysis techniques, we quantified the neuropil fraction from both hemispheres in six cytoarchitectonically defined regions including frontopolar cortex (area 10), Broca’s area (area 45), frontoinsular cortex (area FI), primary motor cortex (area 4), primary auditory cortex (area 41/42), and the planum temporale (area 22). Our results demonstrate that humans exhibit a unique distribution of neuropil in the neocortex compared to chimpanzees. In particular, the human frontopolar cortex and the frontoinsular cortex had a significantly higher neuropil fraction than the other areas. In chimpanzees these prefrontal regions did not display significantly more neuropil, but the primary auditory cortex had a lower neuropil fraction than other areas. Our results support the conclusion that enhanced connectivity in the prefrontal cortex accompanied the evolution of the human brain. These species differences in neuropil distribution may offer insight into the neural basis of human cognition, reflecting enhancement of the integrative capacity of the prefrontal cortex.
cytoarchitecture; evolution; brain; asymmetry
The accumulation of amyloid beta (Aβ) oligomers or fibrils is thought to be one of the main causes of synaptic and neuron loss, believed to underlie cognitive dysfunction in Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Neuron loss has rarely been documented in amyloid precursor protein (APP) transgenic mouse models. We investigated whether two APP mouse models characterized by different folding states of amyloid showed different neuronal densities using an accurate method of cell counting.
We examined total cell and neuronal populations in Swedish/Indiana APP mutant mice (TgCRND8) with severe Aβ pathology that includes fibrils, plaques, and oligomers, and Dutch APP mutant mice with only Aβ oligomer pathology. Using the isotropic fractionator, we found no differences from control mice in regional total cell populations in either TgCRND8 or Dutch mice. However, there were 31.8% fewer hippocampal neurons in TgCRND8 compared to controls, while no such changes were observed in Dutch mice.
We show that the isotropic fractionator is a convenient method for estimating neuronal content in milligram quantities of brain tissue and represents a useful tool to assess cell loss efficiently in transgenic models with different types of neuropathology. Our data support the hypothesis that TgCRND8 mice with a spectrum of Aβ plaque, fibril, and oligomer pathology exhibit neuronal loss whereas Dutch mice with only oligomers, showed no evidence for neuronal loss. This suggests that the combination of plaques, fibrils, and oligomers causes more damage to mouse hippocampal neurons than Aβ oligomers alone.
Alzheimer’s disease; Mouse models; Amyloid beta (Aβ); Isotropic fractionator; Neuronal loss
Since the first description of the case of Auguste Deter, presented in Tübingen in 1906 by Alois Alzheimer, there has been an exponential increase in our knowledge of the neuropathological, cellular, and molecular foundation of Alzheimer's disease (AD). The concept of AD pathogenesis has evolved from a static, binary view discriminating cognitive normality from dementia, towards a dynamic view that considers AD pathology as a long-lasting morbid process that takes place progressively over years, or even decades, before the first symptoms become apparent, and thus operating in a continuum between the two aforementioned extreme states. Several biomarkers have been proposed to predict AD-related cognitive decline, initially in cases with mild cognitive impairment, and more recently in cognitively intact individuals. These early markers define at-risk individuals thought to be in the preclinical phase of AD. However, the clinical relevance of this preclinical phase remains controversial. The fate of such individuals, who are cognitively intact, but positive for some early AD biomarkers, is currently uncertain at best. In this report, we advocate the point of view that although most of these preclinical cases will evolve to clinically overt AD, some appear to have efficient compensatory mechanisms and virtually never develop dementia. We critically review the currently available early AD markers, discuss their clinical relevance, and propose a novel classification of preclinical AD, designating these non-progressing cases as 'stable asymptomatic cerebral amyloidosis'.
Alzheimer disease; asymptomatic; cerebral amyloidosis; cognition; compensatory phenomena; dementia
Attentional dysfunction is among the most consistent observations of autism spectrum disorders (ASD). However, the neural nature of this deficit in ASD is still unclear. In this study, we aimed to identify the neurobehavioral correlates of attentional dysfunction in ASD. We used the Attention Network Test-Revised and functional magnetic resonance imaging to examine alerting, orienting, and executive control functions, as well as the neural substrates underlying these attentional functions in unmedicated, high-functioning adults with ASD (n = 12) and matched healthy controls (HC, n = 12). Compared with HC, individuals with ASD showed increased error rates in alerting and executive control, accompanied by lower activity in the mid-frontal gyrus and the caudate nucleus for alerting, and by the absence of significant functional activation in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) for executive control. In addition, greater behavioral deficiency in executive control in ASD was correlated with less functional activation of the ACC. These findings of behavioral and neural abnormalities in alerting and executive control of attention in ASD may suggest core attentional deficits, which require further investigation.
Alerting; anterior cingulate cortex; attentional networks; autism; executive control
In comparison with other primate species, humans have an extended juvenile period during which the brain is more plastic. In the current study we sought to examine gene expression in the cerebral cortex during development in the context of this adaptive plasticity. We introduce an approach designed to discriminate genes with variable as opposed to uniform patterns of gene expression and found that greater inter-individual variance is observed among children than among adults. For the 337 transcripts that show this pattern, we found a significant overrepresentation of genes annotated to the immune system process (pFDR≅0). Moreover, genes known to be important in neuronal function, such as brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), are included among the genes more variably expressed in childhood. We propose that the developmental period of heightened childhood neuronal plasticity is characterized by more dynamic patterns of gene expression in the cerebral cortex compared to adulthood when the brain is less plastic. That an overabundance of these genes are annotated to the immune system suggests that the functions of these genes can be thought of not only in the context of antigen processing and presentation, but also in the context of nervous system development.
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.
Systems biology; mouse behavior; autism; autism spectrum disorders; genetically modified mice; forward genetics; reverse genetics
Dendrodendritic electrical signaling via gap junctions is now an accepted feature of neuronal communication in mammalian brain, whereas axodendritic and axosomatic gap junctions have rarely been described. We present ultrastructural, immunocytochemical, and dye-coupling evidence for “mixed” (electrical/chemical) synapses on both principal cells and interneurons in adult rat hippocampus. Thin-section electron microscopic images of small gap junction-like appositions were found at mossy fiber (MF) terminals on thorny excrescences of CA3 pyramidal neurons (CA3pyr), apparently forming glutamatergic mixed synapses. Lucifer Yellow injected into weakly fixed CA3pyr was detected in MF axons that contacted four injected CA3pyr, supporting gap junction-mediated coupling between those two types of principal cells. Freeze-fracture replica immunogold labeling revealed diverse sizes and morphologies of connexin-36-containing gap junctions throughout hippocampus. Of 20 immunogold-labeled gap junctions, seven were large (328–1140 connexons), three of which were consistent with electrical synapses between interneurons; but nine were at axon terminal synapses, three of which were immediately adjacent to distinctive glutamate receptor-containing postsynaptic densities, forming mixed glutamatergic synapses. Four others were adjacent to small clusters of immunogold-labeled 10-nm E-face intramembrane particles, apparently representing extrasynaptic glutamate receptor particles. Gap junctions also were on spines in stratum lucidum, stratum oriens, dentate gyrus, and hilus, on both interneurons and unidentified neurons. In addition, one putative GABAergic mixed synapse was found in thin-section images of a CA3pyr, but none were found by immunogold labeling, suggesting the rarity of GABAergic mixed synapses. Cx36-containing gap junctions throughout hippocampus suggest the possibility of reciprocal modulation of electrical and chemical signals in diverse hippocampal neurons.
CA3; dentate gyrus; interneuron; pyramidal neuron; principal cell; mossy fiber; gap junction
We have demonstrated in a previous study that a high degree of worry in patients with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) correlates positively with intelligence and that a low degree of worry in healthy subjects correlates positively with intelligence. We have also shown that both worry and intelligence exhibit an inverse correlation with certain metabolites in the subcortical white matter. Here we re-examine the relationships among generalized anxiety, worry, intelligence, and subcortical white matter metabolism in an extended sample. Results from the original study were combined with results from a second study to create a sample comprised of 26 patients with GAD and 18 healthy volunteers. Subjects were evaluated using the Penn State Worry Questionnaire, the Wechsler Brief intelligence quotient (IQ) assessment, and proton magnetic resonance spectroscopic imaging (1H-MRSI) to measure subcortical white matter metabolism of choline and related compounds (CHO). Patients with GAD exhibited higher IQ’s and lower metabolite concentrations of CHO in the subcortical white matter in comparison to healthy volunteers. When data from GAD patients and healthy controls were combined, relatively low CHO predicted both relatively higher IQ and worry scores. Relatively high anxiety in patients with GAD predicted high IQ whereas relatively low anxiety in controls also predicted high IQ. That is, the relationship between anxiety and intelligence was positive in GAD patients but inverse in healthy volunteers. The collective data suggest that both worry and intelligence are characterized by depletion of metabolic substrate in the subcortical white matter and that intelligence may have co-evolved with worry in humans.
intelligence; anxiety; white matter; choline; magnetic resonance spectroscopic imaging