Although circadian and sleep disorders are frequently associated with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), it remains elusive whether clock gene disruption can lead to autistic-like phenotypes in animals. The essential clock gene Bmal1 has been associated with human sociability and its missense mutations are identified in ASD. Here we report that global Bmal1 deletion led to significant social impairments, excessive stereotyped and repetitive behaviors, as well as motor learning disabilities in mice, all of which resemble core behavioral deficits in ASD. Furthermore, aberrant cell density and immature morphology of dendritic spines were identified in the cerebellar Purkinje cells (PCs) of Bmal1 knockout (KO) mice. Electrophysiological recordings uncovered enhanced excitatory and inhibitory synaptic transmission and reduced firing rates in the PCs of Bmal1 KO mice. Differential expression of ASD- and ataxia-associated genes (Ntng2, Mfrp, Nr4a2, Thbs1, Atxn1, and Atxn3) and dysregulated pathways of translational control, including hyperactivated mammalian target of rapamycin complex 1 (mTORC1) signaling, were identified in the cerebellum of Bmal1 KO mice. Interestingly, the antidiabetic drug metformin reversed mTORC1 hyperactivation and alleviated major behavioral and PC deficits in Bmal1 KO mice. Importantly, conditional Bmal1 deletion only in cerebellar PCs was sufficient to recapitulate autistic-like behavioral and cellular changes akin to those identified in Bmal1 KO mice. Together, these results unveil a previously unidentified role for Bmal1 disruption in cerebellar dysfunction and autistic-like behaviors. Our findings provide experimental evidence supporting a putative role for dysregulation of circadian clock gene expression in the pathogenesis of ASD.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
We thank S. Fatemi and I. Gantois for critical reading of the manuscript. The work was supported by grants from NIH (NS118026 and DK109714 to RC; MH119355 to AA and PK.; NS097312, DA048822 to AA; NS022920 and NS045667 to HTO; GM114142 and CA217297 to VXJ), from the Winston and Maxine Wallin Neuroscience Discovery Fund, from the University of Minnesota Medical School Foundation and from Whiteside Institute for Clinical Research to RC.
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