Impaired cecal motility and secretion alongside expansion of gut-associated lymphoid tissue in the Nlgn3R451C mouse model of autism

Sci Rep. 2023 Aug 4;13(1):12687. doi: 10.1038/s41598-023-39555-y.


Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD; autism) commonly present with gastrointestinal (GI) illness in addition to core diagnostic behavioural traits. The appendix, or cecum in mice, is important for GI homeostasis via its function as a key site for fermentation and a microbial reservoir. Even so, the role of the appendix and cecum in autism-associated GI symptoms remains uninvestigated. Here, we studied mice with an autism-associated missense mutation in the post-synaptic protein neuroligin-3 (Nlgn3R451C), which impacts brain and enteric neuronal activity. We assessed for changes in cecal motility using a tri-cannulation video-imaging approach in ex vivo preparations from wild-type and Nlgn3R451C mice. We investigated cecal permeability and neurally-evoked secretion in wild-type and Nlgn3R451C tissues using an Ussing chamber set-up. The number of cecal patches in fresh tissue samples were assessed and key immune populations including gut macrophages and dendritic cells were visualised using immunofluorescence. Nlgn3R451C mice displayed accelerated cecal motor complexes and reduced cecal weight in comparison to wildtype littermates. Nlgn3R451C mice also demonstrated reduced neurally-evoked cecal secretion in response to the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor agonist 1,1-dimethyl-4-phenylpiperazinium (DMPP), but permeability was unchanged. We observed an increase in the number of cecal patches in Nlgn3R451C mice, however the cellular morphologies of key immune populations studied were not significantly altered. We show that the R451C nervous system mutation leads to cecal dysmotility, impaired secretion, and neuro-immune alterations. Together, these results suggest that the R451C mutation disrupts the gut-brain axis with GI dysfunction in autism.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder*
  • Autistic Disorder* / genetics
  • Autistic Disorder* / metabolism
  • Cecum / metabolism
  • Cell Adhesion Molecules, Neuronal / genetics
  • Lymphoid Tissue / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Neurons / metabolism


  • Cell Adhesion Molecules, Neuronal
  • neuroligin 3