Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are highly prevalent neurodevelopmental disorders, but the underlying pathogenesis remains poorly understood. Recent studies have implicated the cerebellum in these disorders, with post-mortem studies in ASD patients showing cerebellar Purkinje cell (PC) loss, and isolated cerebellar injury has been associated with a higher incidence of ASDs. However, the extent of cerebellar contribution to the pathogenesis of ASDs remains unclear. Tuberous sclerosis complex (TSC) is a genetic disorder with high rates of comorbid ASDs that result from mutation of either TSC1 or TSC2, whose protein products dimerize and negatively regulate mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) signalling. TSC is an intriguing model to investigate the cerebellar contribution to the underlying pathogenesis of ASDs, as recent studies in TSC patients demonstrate cerebellar pathology and correlate cerebellar pathology with increased ASD symptomatology. Functional imaging also shows that TSC patients with ASDs display hypermetabolism in deep cerebellar structures, compared to TSC patients without ASDs. However, the roles of Tsc1 and the sequelae of Tsc1 dysfunction in the cerebellum have not been investigated so far. Here we show that both heterozygous and homozygous loss of Tsc1 in mouse cerebellar PCs results in autistic-like behaviours, including abnormal social interaction, repetitive behaviour and vocalizations, in addition to decreased PC excitability. Treatment of mutant mice with the mTOR inhibitor, rapamycin, prevented the pathological and behavioural deficits. These findings demonstrate new roles for Tsc1 in PC function and define a molecular basis for a cerebellar contribution to cognitive disorders such as autism.
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