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Novel mouse model sheds new light on autism spectrum disorder

A new mouse model, developed by researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is the first to show that when more of a specific biological molecule moves between different parts of nerve cells in the mouse brain, it can lead to behaviors that resembles some aspects of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in humans.

This biological molecule, called acetyl-CoA, is a major part of the process cells use to make energy from food. It’s also used within cells to tag different proteins, which influences where and how they function. Local concentrations of acetyl-CoA and its movement, or flux, between different areas within cells is tightly regulated.

“We show, for the very first time, that changes in acetyl-CoA flux, and not just changes in its levels, in individual neurons can affect neuronal activity,” says Luigi Puglielli, a professor in the Department of Medicine of the UW-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health and the UW’s Waisman Center.

Neurons in the brains of mice without and with human AT-1 ]
Neurons in the brains of mice without (left) and with (right) human AT-1 are shown. In the mice with human AT-1 the neurons become more branched and spiny
Image Credit: Puglieli Lab, UW-Madison Waisman Center