Autism-Misregulated eIF4G Microexons Control Synaptic Translation and Higher Order Cognitive Functions

Mol Cell. 2020 Mar 19;77(6):1176-1192.e16. doi: 10.1016/j.molcel.2020.01.006. Epub 2020 Jan 29.


Microexons represent the most highly conserved class of alternative splicing, yet their functions are poorly understood. Here, we focus on closely related neuronal microexons overlapping prion-like domains in the translation initiation factors, eIF4G1 and eIF4G3, the splicing of which is activity dependent and frequently disrupted in autism. CRISPR-Cas9 deletion of these microexons selectively upregulates synaptic proteins that control neuronal activity and plasticity and further triggers a gene expression program mirroring that of activated neurons. Mice lacking the Eif4g1 microexon display social behavior, learning, and memory deficits, accompanied by altered hippocampal synaptic plasticity. We provide evidence that the eIF4G microexons function as a translational brake by causing ribosome stalling, through their propensity to promote the coalescence of cytoplasmic granule components associated with translation repression, including the fragile X mental retardation protein FMRP. The results thus reveal an autism-disrupted mechanism by which alternative splicing specializes neuronal translation to control higher order cognitive functioning.

Keywords: Alternative Splicing; Autism Spectrum Disorder; FMRP; Fragile X Syndrome; Learning and Memory; Microexons; Phase Separation; Social Behaviour; eIF4G Translation Initiation Factors; mRNP granules; nSR100/SRRM4.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Autistic Disorder / physiopathology*
  • Behavior, Animal
  • Cognitive Dysfunction / genetics
  • Cognitive Dysfunction / metabolism
  • Cognitive Dysfunction / pathology*
  • Eukaryotic Initiation Factor-4G / physiology*
  • Exons / genetics*
  • Fragile X Mental Retardation Protein / genetics
  • Fragile X Mental Retardation Protein / metabolism*
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Neuroblastoma / genetics
  • Neuroblastoma / metabolism
  • Neuroblastoma / pathology*
  • Neurogenesis
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Neurons / pathology*
  • Protein Biosynthesis
  • RNA Splicing
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured


  • Eukaryotic Initiation Factor-4G
  • Fmr1 protein, mouse
  • Fragile X Mental Retardation Protein

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