Hyperexcitability of brain circuits is a common feature of autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). Genetic deletion of a chromatin-binding protein, retinoic acid induced 1 (RAI1), causes Smith-Magenis syndrome (SMS). SMS is a syndromic ASD associated with intellectual disability, autistic features, maladaptive behaviors, overt seizures, and abnormal electroencephalogram (EEG) patterns. The molecular and neural mechanisms underlying abnormal brain activity in SMS remain unclear. Here we show that panneural Rai1 deletions in mice result in increased seizure susceptibility and prolonged hippocampal seizure duration in vivo and increased dentate gyrus population spikes ex vivo. Brain-wide mapping of neuronal activity pinpointed selective cell types within the limbic system, including the hippocampal dentate gyrus granule cells (dGCs) that are hyperactivated by chemoconvulsant administration or sensory experience in Rai1-deficient brains. Deletion of Rai1 from glutamatergic neurons, but not from gamma-aminobutyric acidergic (GABAergic) neurons, was responsible for increased seizure susceptibility. Deleting Rai1 from the Emx1Cre-lineage glutamatergic neurons resulted in abnormal dGC properties, including increased excitatory synaptic transmission and increased intrinsic excitability. Our work uncovers the mechanism of neuronal hyperexcitability in SMS by identifying Rai1 as a negative regulator of dGC intrinsic and synaptic excitability.
Keywords: Smith–Magenis syndrome; autism spectrum disorders; dentate gyrus; neuronal excitability; whole-brain clearing and imaging.