Genetic variants in autism-related CNTNAP2 impair axonal growth of cortical neurons

Hum Mol Genet. 2018 Jun 1;27(11):1941-1954. doi: 10.1093/hmg/ddy102.


The CNTNAP2 gene, coding for the cell adhesion glycoprotein Caspr2, is thought to be one of the major susceptibility genes for autism spectrum disorder (ASD). A large number of rare heterozygous missense CNTNAP2 variants have been identified in ASD patients. However, most of them are inherited from an unaffected parent, questioning their clinical significance. In the present study, we evaluate their impact on neurodevelopmental functions of Caspr2 in a heterozygous genetic background. Performing cortical neuron cultures from mouse embryos, we demonstrate that Caspr2 plays a dose-dependent role in axon growth in vitro. Loss of one Cntnap2 allele is sufficient to elicit axonal growth alteration, revealing a situation that may be relevant for CNTNAP2 heterozygosity in ASD patients. Then, we show that the two ASD variants I869T and G731S, which present impaired binding to Contactin2/TAG-1, do not rescue axonal growth deficits. We find that the variant R1119H leading to protein trafficking defects and retention in the endoplasmic reticulum has a dominant-negative effect on heterozygous Cntnap2 cortical neuron axon growth, through oligomerization with wild-type Caspr2. Finally, we identify an additional variant (N407S) with a dominant-negative effect on axon growth although it is well-localized at the membrane and properly binds to Contactin2. Thus, our data identify a new neurodevelopmental function for Caspr2, the dysregulation of which may contribute to clinical manifestations of ASD, and provide evidence that CNTNAP2 heterozygous missense variants may contribute to pathogenicity in ASD, through selective mechanisms.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Alleles
  • Animals
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / genetics*
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / physiopathology
  • Axons / metabolism
  • Axons / pathology
  • Contactin 2 / genetics*
  • Endoplasmic Reticulum / genetics*
  • Genetic Variation
  • Heterozygote
  • Hippocampus / growth & development
  • Hippocampus / pathology
  • Humans
  • Membrane Proteins / genetics*
  • Mice
  • Mutation, Missense
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins / genetics*
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Neurons / pathology
  • Protein Binding


  • CNTNAP2 protein, mouse
  • Cntn2 protein, mouse
  • Contactin 2
  • Membrane Proteins
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins