Hyperconnectivity of neuronal circuits due to increased synaptic protein synthesis is thought to cause autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). The mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) is strongly implicated in ASDs by means of upstream signalling; however, downstream regulatory mechanisms are ill-defined. Here we show that knockout of the eukaryotic translation initiation factor 4E-binding protein 2 (4E-BP2)—an eIF4E repressor downstream of mTOR—or eIF4E overexpression leads to increased translation of neuroligins, which are postsynaptic proteins that are causally linked to ASDs. Mice that have the gene encoding 4E-BP2 (Eif4ebp2) knocked out exhibit an increased ratio of excitatory to inhibitory synaptic inputs and autistic-like behaviours (that is, social interaction deficits, altered communication and repetitive/stereotyped behaviours). Pharmacological inhibition of eIF4E activity or normalization of neuroligin 1, but not neuroligin 2, protein levels restores the normal excitation/inhibition ratio and rectifies the social behaviour deficits. Thus, translational control by eIF4E regulates the synthesis of neuroligins, maintaining the excitation-to-inhibition balance, and its dysregulation engenders ASD-like phenotypes.

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This work was supported by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (N.S., MOP-114994; J.-C.L., MOP-10848; P.D. and F.M., MOP-93679; and P.L. and N.S., MOP-44050), Autism Speaks (Grant 7109 to N.S.), and the Fonds de la Recherche en Santé du Québec (J.-C.L. FRSQ; Groupe de Recherche sur le Système Nerveux Central), and the National Institutes of Health (D.R.; NIH RO1 CA154916 and NIH RO1 CA140456). D.R. is a Leukemia & Lymphoma Society Scholar. J.-C.L. is the recipient of the Canada Research Chair in Cellular and Molecular Neurophysiology. I.R. was supported by a Fellowship of the Savoy Foundation. We thank Y. Svitkin, A. Parsyan, E. Petroulakis, R. Karni and V. Polunovski for advice; K. Gamache, A. Sylvestre, S. Perreault, C. Lister and I. Harvey for technical assistance; T. Alain for assistance with lentiviral titration; S. Hamdani for assistance with USVs; and W. Sossin and P. Skehel for critical reading of the manuscript.

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Author notes

    • Arkady Khoutorsky
    •  & Israeli Ran

    These authors contributed equally to this work.


  1. Department of Biochemistry & Goodman Cancer Research Centre, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec H3A 1A3, Canada

    • Christos G. Gkogkas
    • , Arkady Khoutorsky
    • , Emmanouil Rampakakis
    • , Tatiana Nevarko
    •  & Nahum Sonenberg
  2. GRSNC and Department of Physiology, Université de Montréal, Montreal, Quebec H3C 3J7, Canada

    • Israeli Ran
    • , Daniel B. Weatherill
    • , Cristina Vasuta
    •  & Jean-Claude Lacaille
  3. JSS Medical Research Inc., Montreal, Quebec H4S 1N8, Canada

    • Emmanouil Rampakakis
  4. Department of Biology, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec H3G 0B1, Canada

    • Stephanie Yee
    •  & Paul Lasko
  5. School of Medicine and Department of Urology, Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center, University of California, San Francisco, California 94158, USA

    • Morgan Truitt
    •  & Davide Ruggero
  6. Institute for Research in Immunology and Cancer, and Department of Computer Science, Université de Montréal, Montreal, Quebec H3C 3J7, Canada

    • Paul Dallaire
    •  & François Major
  7. Department of Psychology, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec H3A 1B1, Canada

    • Karim Nader


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C.G.G. and N.S. conceived and designed this study, wrote the manuscript, supervised and coordinated the project. C.G.G. carried out behavioural, biochemical and imaging experiments, data and statistical analysis; C.G.G., A.K., I.R., D.B.W. and C.V. carried out electrophysiology experiments and data analysis; T.N. and S.Y. conducted biochemical experiments and data analysis; E.R. and I.R. carried out statistical analysis; P.D. and F.M. carried out bioinformatics analysis; M.T. and D.R. provided critical insight and reagents, and edited the manuscript; P.L. supervised the project and edited the manuscript; and K.N. contributed to the design of behavioural experiments, edited the manuscript and supervised the project; J-C.L. supervised, conceived and designed the electrophysiological experiments, edited the manuscript and supervised the project.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Jean-Claude Lacaille or Nahum Sonenberg.

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