Heterozygous loss-of-function mutations in the transcription factor FOXP1 are strongly associated with autism. Dopamine receptor 2 expressing (D2) striatal projection neurons (SPNs) in heterozygous Foxp1 (Foxp1+/−) mice have higher intrinsic excitability. To understand the mechanisms underlying this alteration, we examined SPNs with cell-type specific homozygous Foxp1 deletion to study cell-autonomous regulation by Foxp1. As in Foxp1+/− mice, D2 SPNs had increased intrinsic excitability with homozygous Foxp1 deletion. This effect involved postnatal mechanisms. The hyperexcitability was mainly due to down-regulation of two classes of potassium currents: inwardly rectifying (KIR) and leak (KLeak). Single-cell RNA sequencing data from D2 SPNs with Foxp1 deletion indicated the down-regulation of transcripts of candidate ion channels that may underlie these currents: Kcnj2 and Kcnj4 for KIR and Kcnk2 for KLeak. This Foxp1-dependent regulation was neuron-type specific since these same currents and transcripts were either unchanged, or very little changed, in D1 SPNs with cell-specific Foxp1 deletion. Our data are consistent with a model where FOXP1 negatively regulates the excitability of D2 SPNs through KIR and KLeak by transcriptionally activating their corresponding transcripts. This, in turn, provides a novel example of how a transcription factor may regulate multiple genes to impact neuronal electrophysiological function that depends on the integration of multiple current types – and do this in a cell-specific fashion. Our findings provide initial clues to altered neuronal function and possible therapeutic strategies not only for FOXP1-associated autism but also for other autism forms associated with transcription factor dysfunction.
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Special thanks to Mathew Harper for technical help. Funding provided by the Simons Foundation (SFARI 573689 and 401220) and NIH (MH102603) to GK and JG.
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Khandelwal, N., Cavalier, S., Rybalchenko, V. et al. FOXP1 negatively regulates intrinsic excitability in D2 striatal projection neurons by promoting inwardly rectifying and leak potassium currents. Mol Psychiatry 26, 1761–1774 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41380-020-00995-x