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Altered Ultrasonic Vocalizations in a Tuberous Sclerosis Mouse Model of Autism

  • Author(s): Young, David Matthew
  • Advisor(s): Jan, Lily Y
  • et al.

Tuberous sclerosis (TSC) is an autosomal dominant neurocutaneous disease notable for its high co-morbidity with autism in human patients. Studies of mouse models of tuberous sclerosis have found defects in cognition and learning, but thus far have not uncovered deficits in social behaviors relevant to autism. To explore social communication and interaction in TSC2 heterozygous mice, we recorded ultrasonic vocalizations (USV) and found that although both wild-type (WT) and heterozygous pups born to WT dams showed similar call rates and patterns, baseline vocalization rates were elevated in pups born to heterozygous dams. Further analysis revealed several robust features of maternal potentiation in all but WT pups born to heterozygous dams. This lack of potentiation is suggestive of defects in mother-pup social interaction during or prior to the reunion period between WT pups and heterozygous dams. Intriguingly, male pups of both genotypes born to heterozygous dams showed particularly heightened call rates and burst patterns. Because our maternal retrieval experiments revealed that TSC2+/- dams exhibited improved defensive reactions against intruders and highly efficient pup retrieval performance, the alterations in their pups' USVs and maternal potentiation do not appear to result from poor maternal care. These findings suggest that a pup's interaction with its mother strongly influences its vocal communication, revealing an intriguing dependence of this social behavior on TSC2 gene dosage of both parties involved. Our study of this mouse model thus uncovers social abnormalities that arise from TSC haploinsufficiency and are suggestive of autism.

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