Article | Published:

Synaptic scaffold evolution generated components of vertebrate cognitive complexity

Nature Neuroscience volume 16, pages 1624 (2013) | Download Citation

Abstract

The origins and evolution of higher cognitive functions, including complex forms of learning, attention and executive functions, are unknown. A potential mechanism driving the evolution of vertebrate cognition early in the vertebrate lineage (550 million years ago) was genome duplication and subsequent diversification of postsynaptic genes. Here we report, to our knowledge, the first genetic analysis of a vertebrate gene family in cognitive functions measured using computerized touchscreens. Comparison of mice carrying mutations in each of the four Dlg paralogs showed that simple associative learning required Dlg4, whereas Dlg2 and Dlg3 diversified to have opposing functions in complex cognitive processes. Exploiting the translational utility of touchscreens in humans and mice, testing Dlg2 mutations in both species showed that Dlg2's role in complex learning, cognitive flexibility and attention has been highly conserved over 100 million years. Dlg-family mutations underlie psychiatric disorders, suggesting that genome evolution expanded the complexity of vertebrate cognition at the cost of susceptibility to mental illness.

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Acknowledgements

We thank K. Elsegood and D. Fricker for mouse husbandry and genotyping, T.W. Robbins for advice on CANTAB, J. Barnett for assistance with CANTAB control data and T.W. Robbins and T.J. O'Dell for comments on the manuscript. Figure illustration contribution by D.J. Maizels. J.N., N.H.K., L.N.L. and S.G.N.G. was supported by The Wellcome Trust, Genes to Cognition Program, The Medical Research Council (MRC) and European Union programs (Project GENCODYS no. 241995, Project EUROSPIN no. 242498 and Project SYNSYS no. 242167). M.J. was supported by grants from RS Macdonald Charitable Trust and Academy of Medical Sciences/The Wellcome Trust.

Author information

Author notes

    • Timothy J Bussey
    •  & Seth G N Grant

    These authors contributed equally to this work.

Affiliations

  1. Genes to Cognition Programme, Centre for Clinical Brain Sciences and Centre for Neuroregeneration, The University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK.

    • Jess Nithianantharajah
    • , Noboru H Komiyama
    • , Louie N van de Lagemaat
    •  & Seth G N Grant
  2. Genes to Cognition Programme, The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, Hinxton, UK.

    • Jess Nithianantharajah
    • , Noboru H Komiyama
    • , Louie N van de Lagemaat
    •  & Seth G N Grant
  3. Division of Psychiatry, The University of Edinburgh, Royal Edinburgh Hospital, Edinburgh, UK.

    • Andrew McKechanie
    • , Mandy Johnstone
    •  & Douglas H Blackwood
  4. The Patrick Wild Centre, The University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK.

    • Andrew McKechanie
  5. Institute of Medical Sciences, University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen, UK.

    • David St Clair
  6. School of Veterinary Medicine and Science, University of Nottingham, Sutton Bonington, UK.

    • Richard D Emes
    •  & Timothy J Bussey
  7. Department of Experimental Psychology, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK.

    • Lisa M Saksida
    •  & Timothy J Bussey
  8. The Medical Research Council and The Wellcome Trust Behavioral and Clinical Neuroscience Institute, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK.

    • Lisa M Saksida
    •  & Timothy J Bussey

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Contributions

J.N., N.H.K., L.M.S., T.J.B. and S.G.N.G. conceived and designed the experiments. J.N. performed all mouse experiments and all analysis in the manuscript. A.M. administered CANTAB tests. M.J. performed DLG2 CNV genotyping. A.M., D.H.B. and D.S.C. collected clinical data. R.D.E. provided sequence analysis and L.N.L. gene expression correlation analysis. J.N., T.J.B. and S.G.N.G. wrote the manuscript with input from all authors.

Competing interests

T.J.B. and L.M.S. consult for Campden Instruments.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Seth G N Grant.

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DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/nn.3276

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