Chemogenetic Activation of Prefrontal Cortex Rescues Synaptic and Behavioral Deficits in a Mouse Model of 16p11.2 Deletion Syndrome

J Neurosci. 2018 Jun 27;38(26):5939-5948. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0149-18.2018. Epub 2018 May 31.


Microdeletion of the human 16p11.2 gene locus has been linked to autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and intellectual disability and confers risk for a number of other neurodevelopmental deficits. Transgenic mice carrying 16p11.2 deletion (16p11+/-) display phenotypes reminiscent of those in human patients with 16p11.2 deletion syndrome, but the molecular mechanisms and treatment strategies for these phenotypes remain unknown. In this study, we have found that both male and female 16p11+/- mice exhibit deficient NMDA receptor (NMDAR) function in the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC), a brain region critical for high-level "executive" functions. Elevating the activity of mPFC pyramidal neurons with a CaMKII-driven Gq-DREADD (Gq-coupled designer receptors exclusively activated by designer drugs) led to the significant increase of NR2B subunit phosphorylation and the restoration of NMDAR function, as well as the amelioration of cognitive and social impairments in 16p11+/- mice. These results suggest that NMDAR hypofunction in PFC may contribute to the pathophysiology of 16p11.2 deletion syndrome and that restoring PFC activity is sufficient to rescue the behavioral deficits.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT The 16p11.2 deletion syndrome is strongly associated with autism spectrum disorder and intellectual disability. Using a mouse model carrying the 16p11.2 deletion, 16p11+/-, we identified NMDA receptor hypofunction in the prefrontal cortex (PFC). Elevating the activity of PFC pyramidal neurons with a chemogenetic tool, Gq-DREADD, led to the restoration of NMDA receptor function and the amelioration of cognitive and social impairments in 16p11+/- mice. These results have revealed a novel route for potential therapeutic intervention of 16p11.2 deletion syndrome.

Keywords: 16p11.2 deletion; DREADD; NMDA; autism spectrum disorder; prefrontal cortex.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Autistic Disorder / metabolism*
  • Autistic Disorder / physiopathology
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology
  • Chromosome Deletion
  • Chromosome Disorders / metabolism*
  • Chromosome Disorders / physiopathology
  • Chromosomes, Human, Pair 16 / metabolism
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Female
  • Intellectual Disability / metabolism*
  • Intellectual Disability / physiopathology
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Prefrontal Cortex / metabolism*
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiopathology
  • Pyramidal Cells / metabolism*
  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate / metabolism*


  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate

Supplementary concepts

  • 16p11.2 Deletion Syndrome