Doctor of Philosophy, Chinese Academy Of Sciences (2016)
Bachelor of Science, Unlisted School (2008)
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Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) encompasses a complex set of developmental neurological disorders, characterized by deficits in social communication and excessive repetitive behaviors. In recent years, ASD is increasingly being considered as a disease of the synapse. One main type of genetic aberration leading to ASD is gene duplication, and several mouse models have been generated mimicking these mutations. Here, we studied the effects of MECP2 duplication and human chromosome 15q11-13 duplication on synaptic development and neural circuit wiring in the mouse sensory cortices. We showed that mice carrying MECP2 duplication had specific defects in spine pruning, while the 15q11-13 duplication mouse model had impaired spine formation. Our results demonstrate that spine pathology varies significantly between autism models and that distinct aspects of neural circuit development may be targeted in different ASD mutations. Our results further underscore the importance of gene dosage in normal development and function of the brain.
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Methyl-CpG binding protein 2 (MeCP2) has crucial roles in transcriptional regulation and microRNA processing. Mutations in the MECP2 gene are found in 90% of patients with Rett syndrome, a severe developmental disorder with autistic phenotypes. Duplications of MECP2-containing genomic segments cause the MECP2 duplication syndrome, which shares core symptoms with autism spectrum disorders. Although Mecp2-null mice recapitulate most developmental and behavioural defects seen in patients with Rett syndrome, it has been difficult to identify autism-like behaviours in the mouse model of MeCP2 overexpression. Here we report that lentivirus-based transgenic cynomolgus monkeys (Macaca fascicularis) expressing human MeCP2 in the brain exhibit autism-like behaviours and show germline transmission of the transgene. Expression of the MECP2 transgene was confirmed by western blotting and immunostaining of brain tissues of transgenic monkeys. Genomic integration sites of the transgenes were characterized by a deep-sequencing-based method. As compared to wild-type monkeys, MECP2 transgenic monkeys exhibited a higher frequency of repetitive circular locomotion and increased stress responses, as measured by the threat-related anxiety and defensive test. The transgenic monkeys showed less interaction with wild-type monkeys within the same group, and also a reduced interaction time when paired with other transgenic monkeys in social interaction tests. The cognitive functions of the transgenic monkeys were largely normal in the Wisconsin general test apparatus, although some showed signs of stereotypic cognitive behaviours. Notably, we succeeded in generating five F1 offspring of MECP2 transgenic monkeys by intracytoplasmic sperm injection with sperm from one F0 transgenic monkey, showing germline transmission and Mendelian segregation of several MECP2 transgenes in the F1 progeny. Moreover, F1 transgenic monkeys also showed reduced social interactions when tested in pairs, as compared to wild-type monkeys of similar age. Together, these results indicate the feasibility and reliability of using genetically engineered non-human primates to study brain disorders.
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Dendritic spines are postsynaptic compartments of excitatory synapses that undergo dynamic changes during development, including rapid spinogenesis in early postnatal life and significant pruning during adolescence. Spine pruning defects have been implicated in developmental neurological disorders such as autism, yet much remains to be uncovered regarding its molecular mechanism. Here, we show that spine pruning and maturation in the mouse somatosensory cortex are coordinated via the cadherin/catenin cell adhesion complex and bidrectionally regulated by sensory experience. We further demonstrate that locally enhancing cadherin/catenin-dependent adhesion or photo-stimulating a contacting channelrhodopsin-expressing axon stabilized the manipulated spine and eliminated its neighbors, an effect requiring cadherin/catenin-dependent adhesion. Importantly, we show that differential cadherin/catenin-dependent adhesion between neighboring spines biased spine fate in vivo. These results suggest that activity-induced inter-spine competition for ?-catenin provides specificity for concurrent spine maturation and elimination and thus is critical for the molecular control of spine pruning during neural circuit refinement.
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The morphology of the dendritic tree is critical to neuronal function and neural circuit wiring. Several Wnt family members have been demonstrated to play important roles in dendrite development. However, the Wnt receptors responsible for mediating this process remain largely elusive. Using primary hippocampal neuronal cultures as a model system, we report that Frizzled4 (Fzd4), a member of the Fzd family of Wnt receptors, specifically signals downstream of Wnt5a to promote dendrite branching and growth. Interestingly, the less conserved distal PDZ binding motif of Fzd4, and not its conserved proximal Dvl-interacting PDZ motif, is required for mediating this effect. We further showed that Dvl signaled parallel to and independent of Fzd4 in promoting dendrite growth. Unlike most previously described pathways, Wnt5a/Fzd4 signaling promoted dendrite development in an activity-independent and autocrine fashion. Together, these results provide the first identification of a Wnt receptor for regulating dendrite development in the mammalian system, and demonstrate a novel function of the distal PDZ motif of Fzd4 in dendrite morphogenesis, thereby expanding our knowledge of the complex roles of Wnt signaling in neural development.
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