Bridging the Gap between Genes and Behavior: Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor and the mTOR Pathway in Idiopathic Autism
Margaret Fahnestock* and Chiara Nicolini
Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Neurosciences, McMaster University, Hamilton, Canada
- *Corresponding Author:
- Fahnestock M
Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Neurosciences
McMaster University, Hamilton, Canada
E-mail: [email protected]
Received: June 10, 2014; Accepted: July 05, 2015; Published: July 12, 2015
Citation: Fahnestock M, Nicolini C (2015) Bridging the Gap between Genes and Behavior: Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor and the mTOR Pathway in Idiopathic Autism. Autism Open Access 5:143.doi:10.4172/2165-7890.1000143
Copyright: © 2015 Fahnestock M, et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
Although autism is highly genetic, “idiopathic” cases, for which there is no known genetic basis, may be due to epigenetic or environmental factors. Indeed, recent efforts have been highly successful in identifying hundreds of genes, as well as interacting epigenetic and environmental factors that contribute to autism susceptibility, corroborating the importance of gene x environment interactions in the etiology of autism. Nevertheless, a more thorough understanding of the proteins and pathways that lead from genes to behavior is desperately needed. Genetic studies have implicated molecules involved in synapse development and plasticity in autism pathogenesis. Among these are brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), its receptor, tropomyosin-related kinase B (TrkB), and their signaling pathways including mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR), which is increased in most forms of syndromic autism. Notably, abnormalities in these molecules have also been found in idiopathic autism. Postmortem brain tissue of subjects with idiopathic autism exhibits imbalances in BDNF isoforms, reduced TrkB and downstream effectors PI3 kinase (PI3K), mTOR, Epidermal growth factor receptor pathway substrate 8 (Eps8) and the excitatory synaptic marker postsynaptic density protein 95 kDa (PSD-95). Furthermore, similar TrkB pathway deficits including reduced TrkB/mTOR signaling and PSD-95, along with autistic-like behavior, have been found in valproic acid-exposed rodents, a model of environmental/epigenetic causes of autism. Our studies in both human idiopathic autism and the valproic acid-induced rodent model suggest that decreased signaling through the mTOR pathway can be as damaging as its over-activation.