Image_2_Possible Implication of the CA2 Hippocampal Circuit in Social Cognition Deficits Observed in the Neuroligin 3 Knock-Out Mouse, a Non-Syndromic Animal Model of Autism.tif

Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) comprise a heterogeneous group of neuro-developmental abnormalities with a strong genetic component, characterized by deficits in verbal and non-verbal communication, impaired social interactions, and stereotyped behaviors. In a small percentage of cases, ASDs are associated with alterations of genes involved in synaptic function. Among these, relatively frequent are mutations/deletions of genes encoding for neuroligins (NLGs). NLGs are postsynaptic adhesion molecules that, interacting with their presynaptic partners neurexins, ensure the cross talk between pre- and postsynaptic specializations and synaptic stabilization, a condition needed for maintaining a proper excitatory/inhibitory balance within local neuronal circuits. We have focused on mice lacking NLG3 (NLG3 knock-out mice), animal models of a non-syndromic form of autism, which exhibit deficits in social behavior reminiscent of those found in ASDs. Among different brain areas involved in social cognition, the CA2 region of the hippocampus has recently emerged as a central structure for social memory processing. Here, in vivo recordings from anesthetized animals and ex vivo recordings from hippocampal slices have been used to assess the dynamics of neuronal signaling in the CA2 hippocampal area. In vivo experiments from NLG3-deficient mice revealed a selective impairment of spike-related slow wave activity in the CA2 area and a significant reduction in oscillatory activity in the theta and gamma frequencies range in both CA2 and CA3 regions of the hippocampus. These network effects were associated with an increased neuronal excitability in the CA2 hippocampal area. Ex vivo recordings from CA2 principal cells in slices obtained from NLG3 knock-out animals unveiled a strong excitatory/inhibitory imbalance in this region accompanied by a strong reduction of perisomatic inhibition mediated by CCK-containing GABAergic interneurons. These data clearly suggest that the selective alterations in network dynamics and GABAergic signaling observed in the CA2 hippocampal region of NLG3 knock-out mice may account for deficits in social memory reminiscent of those observed in autistic patients.