Identifying genes involved in social behavior is important for autism research. Williams-Beuren syndrome (WBS) is a developmental syndrome with unique neurocognitive features, including low IQ, deficits in visuospatial and visual-motor abilities, hypersensitivity to sounds, hypersociability, and increased general anxiety. The syndrome is caused by a recurrent hemizygous deletion of the 7q11.23 region, containing about 28 genes. One of genes in the region, GTF2I, has been implicated in the hypersociability and visuospatial deficits of WBS based on genotype-phenotype correlation studies of patients with atypical deletions. In order to clarify the involvement of GTF2I in neurocognitive function, especially social behavior, we have developed and characterized Gtf2i-deficient mice. We found that homozygous deletion of Gtf2i causes lethality during embryonic development with neural tube closure defects and exencephaly, consistent with other reports. Gtf2i heterozygous animals show no gross changes in brain structure or development. Furthermore, heterozygous animals show no alterations in learning and memory, including spatial memory as assessed by the Morris water maze, but show alterations in the recognition of novel objects. Interestingly, they show increased social interaction with unfamiliar mice and do not show typical social habituation processes, reminiscent of the hypersociability observed in WBS patients. The mice do not appear to show increased anxiety, supporting a specific effect of Gtf2i on defined domains of the WBS phenotype. These data indicate that Gtf2i is involved in several aspects of embryonic development and the development of social neurocircuitry and that GTF2I haploinsufficiency could be a contributor to the hypersociability in WBS patients.
Copyright © 2010, International Society for Autism Research, Wiley Periodicals, Inc.