Modulation of prefrontal cortex excitation/inhibition balance rescues social behavior in CNTNAP2-deficient mice

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Science Translational Medicine  02 Aug 2017:
Vol. 9, Issue 401, eaah6733
DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.aah6733

Social interactions light up

Neurophysiological phenomena that underlie the symptoms of autism remain unclear. Genetics-based mouse models of autism have suggested that there is an increase in the neuronal excitation/inhibition (E:I) balance. An optogenetically driven increase in this E:I balance leads to social deficits in mice. Using mice lacking CNTNAP2, a gene known to be associated with autism in humans, Selimbeyoglu and colleagues now show that real-time optogenetic modulation of the E:I balance rescued social behavior deficits and hyperactivity in these animals. This study highlights the potential for modulating neural circuits in the brain as a strategy for treating autism.


Alterations in the balance between neuronal excitation and inhibition (E:I balance) have been implicated in the neural circuit activity–based processes that contribute to autism phenotypes. We investigated whether acutely reducing E:I balance in mouse brain could correct deficits in social behavior. We used mice lacking the CNTNAP2 gene, which has been implicated in autism, and achieved a temporally precise reduction in E:I balance in the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) either by optogenetically increasing the excitability of inhibitory parvalbumin (PV) neurons or decreasing the excitability of excitatory pyramidal neurons. Surprisingly, both of these distinct, real-time, and reversible optogenetic modulations acutely rescued deficits in social behavior and hyperactivity in adult mice lacking CNTNAP2. Using fiber photometry, we discovered that native mPFC PV neuronal activity differed between CNTNAP2 knockout and wild-type mice. During social interactions with other mice, PV neuron activity increased in wild-type mice compared to interactions with a novel object, whereas this difference was not observed in CNTNAP2 knockout mice. Together, these results suggest that real-time modulation of E:I balance in the mouse prefrontal cortex can rescue social behavior deficits reminiscent of autism phenotypes.

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