High behavioural variability mediated by altered neuronal excitability in auts2 mutant zebrafish

Jha, U., Kondrychyn, I., Korzh, V., Thirumalai, V.
eNeuro   8(5): (Journal)
Registered Authors
Jha, Urvashi, Kondrychyn, Igor, Korzh, Vladimir, Thirumalai, Vatsala
C-start, Mauthner, calcium imaging, escape behavior, intrinsic properties, transcription
MeSH Terms
  • Animals
  • Escape Reaction
  • Neurons*
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Zebrafish*
  • Zebrafish Proteins/genetics
34544758 Full text @ eNeuro
Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are characterized by abnormal behavioral traits arising from neural circuit dysfunction. While a number of genes have been implicated in ASDs, in most cases, a clear understanding of how mutations in these genes lead to circuit dysfunction and behavioral abnormality is absent. The autism susceptibility candidate 2 (AUTS2) gene is one such gene, associated with ASDs, intellectual disability and a range of other neurodevelopmental conditions. Yet, the role of AUTS2 in neural development and circuit function is not at all known. Here, we undertook functional analysis of Auts2a, the main homolog of AUTS2 in zebrafish, in the context of the escape behavior. Escape behavior in wild type zebrafish is critical for survival and is therefore, reliable, rapid, and has well-defined kinematic properties. Auts2a mutant zebrafish are viable, have normal gross morphology and can generate escape behavior with normal kinematics. However, the behavior is unreliable and delayed, with high trial-to-trial variability in the latency. Using calcium imaging we probed the activity of Mauthner neurons during otic vesicle stimulation and observed lower probability of activation and reduced calcium transients in the mutants. With direct activation of Mauthner by antidromic stimulation, the threshold for activation in mutants was higher than that in wild type, even when inhibition was blocked. Taken together, these results point to reduced excitability of Mauthner neurons in auts2a mutant larvae leading to unreliable escape responses. Our results show a novel role for Auts2a in regulating neural excitability and reliability of behavior.Significance statementAUTS2 is one among recently identified autism susceptibility candidate genes, whose function in neuronal circuits is unclear. Using zebrafish as a model organism, we probe the function of Auts2a (homolog of mammalian AUTS2) at the cellular, network and behavioral levels. The escape behavior of Auts2a mutant zebrafish is highly variable with normal short latency escapes, long latency escapes and total failures across trials in the same fish. This occurs because neuronal excitability is inappropriately set in the Mauthner neurons of mutants leading to large trial-to-trial variability in responses. The behavioral variability is fully explained by variability in firing action potentials in the Mauthner neuron, providing an integrative understanding of how behavioral variability arises from mutations at the genetic level.
Genes / Markers
Show all Figures
Mutations / Transgenics
Human Disease / Model
Sequence Targeting Reagents
Engineered Foreign Genes