Patients with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) commonly experience aberrant tactile sensitivity, yet the neural alterations underlying somatosensory dysfunction and the extent to which tactile deficits contribute to ASD characteristics are unknown. We report that mice harboring mutations in Mecp2, Gabrb3, Shank3, and Fmr1 genes associated with ASDs in humans exhibit altered tactile discrimination and hypersensitivity to gentle touch. Deletion of Mecp2 or Gabrb3 in peripheral somatosensory neurons causes mechanosensory dysfunction through loss of GABAA receptor-mediated presynaptic inhibition of inputs to the CNS. Remarkably, tactile defects resulting from Mecp2 or Gabrb3 deletion in somatosensory neurons during development, but not in adulthood, cause social interaction deficits and anxiety-like behavior. Restoring Mecp2 expression exclusively in the somatosensory neurons of Mecp2-null mice rescues tactile sensitivity, anxiety-like behavior, and social interaction deficits, but not lethality, memory, or motor deficits. Thus, mechanosensory processing defects contribute to anxiety-like behavior and social interaction deficits in ASD mouse models. PAPERCLIP.
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