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Exaggerated translation causes synaptic and behavioural aberrations associated with autism


Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are an early onset, heterogeneous group of heritable neuropsychiatric disorders with symptoms that include deficits in social interaction skills, impaired communication abilities, and ritualistic-like repetitive behaviours1,2. One of the hypotheses for a common molecular mechanism underlying ASDs is altered translational control resulting in exaggerated protein synthesis3. Genetic variants in chromosome 4q, which contains the EIF4E locus, have been described in patients with autism4,5. Importantly, a rare single nucleotide polymorphism has been identified in autism that is associated with increased promoter activity in the EIF4E gene6. Here we show that genetically increasing the levels of eukaryotic translation initiation factor 4E (eIF4E) in mice7 results in exaggerated cap-dependent translation and aberrant behaviours reminiscent of autism, including repetitive and perseverative behaviours and social interaction deficits. Moreover, these autistic-like behaviours are accompanied by synaptic pathophysiology in the medial prefrontal cortex, striatum and hippocampus. The autistic-like behaviours displayed by the eIF4E-transgenic mice are corrected by intracerebroventricular infusions of the cap-dependent translation inhibitor 4EGI-1. Our findings demonstrate a causal relationship between exaggerated cap-dependent translation, synaptic dysfunction and aberrant behaviours associated with autism.

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Figure 1: eIF4E-transgenic mice exhibit increased eIF4E/eIF4G interactions and exaggerated cap-dependent translation.
Figure 2: eIF4E-transgenic mice exhibit ASD-like behaviours.
Figure 3: eIF4E-transgenic mice exhibit alterations in synaptic function, dendritic spine density and synaptic plasticity.
Figure 4: The cap-dependent translation inhibitor 4EGI-1 reverses ASD-like behaviours shown by eIF4E-transgenic mice.

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We would like to thank J. LeDoux and members of his laboratory for their technical support and suggestions. We would also like to thank D. St Clair and Z. Miedzybrodzka for their comments on the manuscript. This research was supported by National Institutes of Health (NIH) grants NS034007, NS047384 and NS078718, and Department of Defense CDMRP award W81XWH-11-1-0389 (E.K.), NIH grant CA154916 (D.R.) and the Wellcome Trust (A.F.M.).

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Authors and Affiliations



The study was directed by E.K. and conceived and designed by E.S. and E.K. E.S. performed the molecular, behavioural and electrophysiological experiments. T.N.H. performed behavioural experiments. A.F.M. and A.G.C. performed the dendritic spine-density experiments. P.P. contributed the anti-puromycin (12D10) antibody. D.R. contributed with reagents and expertise concerning translation control by eIF4E. H.K. performed the cortical whole-cell electrophysiological experiments. The manuscript was written by E.S. and E.K. and edited by all of the authors.

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Correspondence to Eric Klann.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Santini, E., Huynh, T., MacAskill, A. et al. Exaggerated translation causes synaptic and behavioural aberrations associated with autism. Nature 493, 411–415 (2013).

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