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Gastrointestinal dysfunction in patients and mice expressing the autism‐associated R451C mutation in neuroligin‐3

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posted on 2022-03-28, 04:18 authored by Suzanne Hosie, Melina Ellis, Mathusi Swaminathan, Fatima Ramalhosa, Gracia O Seger, Gayathri K Balasuriya, Christopher Gillberg, Maria Råstam, Leonid Churilov, Sonja J McKeown, Nalzi Yalcinkaya, Petri Urvil, Tor Savidge, Carolyn BellCarolyn Bell, Oonagh Bodin, Jennifer WoodJennifer Wood, Ashley FranksAshley Franks, Joel C Bornstein, Elisa L Hill‐Yardin
Gastrointestinal (GI) problems constitute an important comorbidity in many patients with autism. Multiple mutations in the neuroligin family of synaptic adhesion molecules are implicated in autism, however whether they are expressed and impact GI function via changes in the enteric nervous system is unknown. We report the GI symptoms of two brothers with autism and an R451C mutation in Nlgn3 encoding the synaptic adhesion protein, neuroligin-3. We confirm the presence of an array of synaptic genes in the murine GI tract and investigate the impact of impaired synaptic protein expression in mice carrying the human neuroligin-3 R451C missense mutation (NL3R451C). Assessing in vivo gut dysfunction, we report faster small intestinal transit in NL3R451C compared to wild-type mice. Using an ex vivo colonic motility assay, we show increased sensitivity to GABAA receptor modulation in NL3R451C mice, a well-established Central Nervous System (CNS) feature associated with this mutation. We further show increased numbers of small intestine myenteric neurons in NL3R451C mice. Although we observed altered sensitivity to GABAA receptor modulators in the colon, there was no change in colonic neuronal numbers including the number of GABA-immunoreactive myenteric neurons. We further identified altered fecal microbial communities in NL3R451C mice. These results suggest that the R451C mutation affects small intestinal and colonic function and alter neuronal numbers in the small intestine as well as impact fecal microbes. Our findings identify a novel GI phenotype associated with the R451C mutation and highlight NL3R451C mice as a useful preclinical model of GI dysfunction in autism. Autism Res 2019, 12: 1043–1056. © 2019 International Society for Autism Research, Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Lay Summary: People with autism commonly experience gastrointestinal problems, however the cause is unknown. We report gut symptoms in patients with the autism-associated R451C mutation encoding the neuroligin-3 protein. We show that many of the genes implicated in autism are expressed in mouse gut. The neuroligin-3 R451C mutation alters the enteric nervous system, causes gastrointestinal dysfunction, and disrupts gut microbe populations in mice. Gut dysfunction in autism could be due to mutations that affect neuronal communication.


This work was supported by an Idea Development Award from the United States Department of Defense's Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs (CDMRP) Autism Research Program (AR110134) to E.L.H.-Y. and J.C.B.; the Victorian Government through the Operational Infrastructure Scheme, National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) project grants (APP566642 to J.C.B. and APP1047674 to E.L.H.-Y.) and the Royal Melbourne Hospital Neuroscience Foundation. E.L.H.-Y. also received an ARC Future Fellowship (FT160100126) and an RMIT Vice Chancellor's Senior Research Fellowship which supported G.K.B. and S.H. T.S., P.U., and N.Y. were funded by grants RO1AI100914, P30-DK56338, and U01-AI24290 awards to Baylor College of Medicine funded from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases at the National Institutes of Health (T.C.S.). The Hu antibody was a gift from Dr. V. Lennon, Mayo Clinic, USA. The authors thank Laura Parry for gene expression experimental design, M. Mohsenipour for genotyping, Candice Fung for primer design, Athena Latina for microbial sampling, M. Kesar, B. McInnes, T. Drever, M. Williams, and S. Taverner for animal care and E. Mayer, A. Moulden, and R. Savarirayan for their constructive comments on this manuscript.


Publication Date



Autism Research






14p. (p. 1043-1056)





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© 2019 The Authors. Autism Research published by International Society for Autism Research published by Wiley Periodicals, Inc. This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited and is not used for commercial purposes.