Microglial Tmem59 Deficiency Impairs Phagocytosis of Synapse and Leads to Autism-Like Behaviors in Mice

J Neurosci. 2022 Jun 22;42(25):4958-4979. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1644-21.2022. Epub 2022 May 23.


Synaptic abnormality is an important pathologic feature of autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) and responsible for various behavioral defects in these neurodevelopmental disorders. Microglia are the major immune cells in the brain and also play an important role in synapse refinement. Although dysregulated synaptic pruning by microglia during the brain development has been associated with ASDs, the underlying mechanism has yet to be fully elucidated. Herein, we observed that expression of Transmembrane protein 59 (TMEM59), a protein recently shown to regulate microglial function, was decreased in autistic patients. Furthermore, we found that both male and female mice with either complete or microglia-specific loss of Tmem59 developed ASD-like behaviors. Microglial TMEM59-deficient mice also exhibited enhanced excitatory synaptic transmission, increased dendritic spine density, and elevated levels of excitatory synaptic proteins in synaptosomes. TMEM59-deficient microglia had impaired capacity for synapse engulfment both in vivo and in vitro. Moreover, we demonstrated that TMEM59 interacted with the C1q receptor CD93 and TMEM59 deficiency promoted CD93 protein degradation in microglia. Downregulation of CD93 in microglia also impaired synapse engulfment. These findings identify a crucial role of TMEM59 in modulating microglial function on synapse refinement during brain development and suggest that TMEM59 deficiency may contribute to ASDs through disrupting phagocytosis of excitatory synapse and thus distorting the excitatory-inhibitory (E/I) neuronal activity balance.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Microglia play an important role in synapse refinement. Dysregulated synaptic pruning by microglia during brain development has been associated with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). However, the underlying mechanism has yet to be fully elucidated. Herein, we observe that the expression of Transmembrane protein 59 (TMEM59), an autophagy-related protein, is decreased in autistic patients. Moreover, we find ASD-like behaviors in mice with complete loss and with microglia-specific loss of Tmem59 Mechanistic studies reveal that TMEM59 deficiency in microglia impairs their synapse engulfment ability likely through destabilizing the C1q receptor CD93, thereby leading to enhanced excitatory neurotransmission and increased dendritic spine density. Our findings demonstrate a crucial role of microglial TMEM59 in early neuronal development and provide new insight into the etiology of ASDs.

Keywords: CD93; TMEM59; autism spectrum disorders; microglia; neuronal transmission; synaptic phagocytosis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Autistic Disorder* / genetics
  • Autistic Disorder* / metabolism
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Membrane Proteins / genetics
  • Membrane Proteins / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Microglia* / metabolism
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins / genetics
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins / metabolism
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology
  • Phagocytosis
  • Synapses / physiology


  • Membrane Proteins
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins
  • Tmem59 protein, mouse