Background: Angelman syndrome (AS) is a neurodevelopmental disorder caused by mutations affecting UBE3A function. AS is characterized by intellectual disability, impaired motor coordination, epilepsy, and behavioral abnormalities including autism spectrum disorder features. The development of treatments for AS heavily relies on the ability to test the efficacy of drugs in mouse models that show reliable, and preferably clinically relevant, phenotypes. We previously described a number of behavioral paradigms that assess phenotypes in the domains of motor performance, repetitive behavior, anxiety, and seizure susceptibility. Here, we set out to evaluate the robustness of these phenotypes when tested in a standardized test battery. We then used this behavioral test battery to assess the efficacy of minocycline and levodopa, which were recently tested in clinical trials of AS.
Methods: We combined data of eight independent experiments involving 111 Ube3a mice and 120 wild-type littermate control mice. Using a meta-analysis, we determined the statistical power of the subtests and the effect of putative confounding factors, such as the effect of sex and of animal weight on rotarod performance. We further assessed the robustness of these phenotypes by comparing Ube3a mutants in different genetic backgrounds and by comparing the behavioral phenotypes of independently derived Ube3a-mutant lines. In addition, we investigated if the test battery allowed re-testing the same animals, which would allow a within-subject testing design.
Results: We find that the test battery is robust across different Ube3a-mutant lines, but confirm and extend earlier studies that several phenotypes are very sensitive to genetic background. We further found that the audiogenic seizure susceptibility phenotype is fully reversible upon pharmacological treatment and highly suitable for dose-finding studies. In agreement with the clinical trial results, we found that minocycline and levodopa treatment of Ube3a mice did not show any sign of improved performance in our test battery.
Conclusions: Our study provides a useful tool for preclinical drug testing to identify treatments for Angelman syndrome. Since the phenotypes are observed in several independently derived Ube3a lines, the test battery can also be employed to investigate the effect of specific Ube3a mutations on these phenotypes.
Keywords: Angelman syndrome; Mouse model, behavior, drug screening; UBE3A.