Transient Blockade of ERK Phosphorylation in the Critical Period Causes Autistic Phenotypes as an Adult in Mice

Sci Rep. 2015 May 20:5:10252. doi: 10.1038/srep10252.


The critical period is a distinct time-window during the neonatal stage when animals display elevated sensitivity to certain environmental stimuli, and particular experiences can have profound and long-lasting effects on behaviors. Increasing evidence suggests that disruption of neuronal activity during the critical period contributes to autistic phenotype, although the pathogenic mechanism is largely unknown. Herein we show that extracellular signal-regulated protein kinases (ERKs) play important roles in proper formation of neural circuits during the critical period. Transient blockade of ERKs phosphorylation at postnatal day 6 (P6) by intraperitoneal injection of blood-brain barrier-penetrating MEK inhibitor, α-[amino[(4-aminophenyl)thio]methylene]-2-(trifluoromethyl)benzeneacetonitrile (SL327) caused significant increase of apoptosis in the forebrain. Furthermore, this induced long-term deleterious effects on brain functioning later in adulthood, resulting in social deficits, impaired memory and reduced long-term potentiation (LTP). Conversely, blockade of ERK phosphorylation at P14 no longer induced apoptosis, nor behavioral deficits, nor the reduced LTP. Thus, surprisingly, these effects of ERKs are strongly age-dependent, indicating that phosphorylation of ERKs during the critical period is absolutely required for proper development of brain functioning. This study provides novel insight into the mechanistic basis for neurodevelopment disorders: various neurodevelopment disorders might be generally linked to defects in ERKs signaling during the critical period.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aminoacetonitrile / analogs & derivatives
  • Aminoacetonitrile / pharmacology
  • Animals
  • Apoptosis / drug effects
  • Autistic Disorder / metabolism
  • Autistic Disorder / pathology*
  • Behavior, Animal / drug effects
  • Caspase 3 / metabolism
  • Extracellular Signal-Regulated MAP Kinases / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Extracellular Signal-Regulated MAP Kinases / genetics
  • Extracellular Signal-Regulated MAP Kinases / metabolism*
  • Hippocampus / metabolism
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Long-Term Potentiation / drug effects
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Knockout
  • N-Methylaspartate / analysis
  • Phenotype
  • Phosphorylation / drug effects
  • Protein Isoforms / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Protein Isoforms / metabolism
  • alpha-Amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazolepropionic Acid / analysis


  • Protein Isoforms
  • SL 327
  • Aminoacetonitrile
  • N-Methylaspartate
  • alpha-Amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazolepropionic Acid
  • Extracellular Signal-Regulated MAP Kinases
  • Caspase 3