Early-use activity during circuit-specific critical periods refines brain circuitry by the coupled processes of eliminating inappropriate synapses and strengthening maintained synapses. We theorize these activity-dependent (A-D) developmental processes are specifically impaired in autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). ASD genetic models in both mouse and Drosophila have pioneered our insights into normal A-D neural circuit assembly and consolidation, and how these developmental mechanisms go awry in specific genetic conditions. The monogenic fragile X syndrome (FXS), a common cause of heritable ASD and intellectual disability, has been particularly well linked to defects in A-D critical period processes. The fragile X mental retardation protein (FMRP) is positively activity-regulated in expression and function, in turn regulates excitability and activity in a negative feedback loop, and appears to be required for the A-D remodeling of synaptic connectivity during early-use critical periods. The Drosophila FXS model has been shown to functionally conserve the roles of human FMRP in synaptogenesis, and has been centrally important in generating our current mechanistic understanding of the FXS disease state. Recent advances in Drosophila optogenetics, transgenic calcium reporters, highly-targeted transgenic drivers for individually-identified neurons, and a vastly improved connectome of the brain are now being combined to provide unparalleled opportunities to both manipulate and monitor A-D processes during critical period brain development in defined neural circuits. The field is now poised to exploit this new Drosophila transgenic toolbox for the systematic dissection of A-D mechanisms in normal versus ASD brain development, particularly utilizing the well-established Drosophila FXS disease model.
Keywords: Drosophila; E/I ratio; fragile X syndrome; optogenetics; synapse elimination; synaptogenesis.