Delling JP, Boeckers TM.
J Neurodev Disord. 2021 Nov 16;13(1):55. doi: 10.1186/s11689-021-09397-8.
BACKGROUND: Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental condition, which is characterized by clinical heterogeneity and high heritability. Core symptoms of ASD include deficits in social communication and interaction, as well as restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities. Many genes have been identified that are associated with an increased risk for ASD. Proteins encoded by these ASD risk genes are often involved in processes related to fetal brain development, chromatin modification and regulation of gene expression in general, as well as the structural and functional integrity of synapses. Genes of the SH3 and multiple ankyrin repeat domains (SHANK) family encode crucial scaffolding proteins (SHANK1-3) of excitatory synapses and other macromolecular complexes. SHANK gene mutations are highly associated with ASD and more specifically the Phelan-McDermid syndrome (PMDS), which is caused by heterozygous 22q13.3-deletion resulting in SHANK3-haploinsufficiency, or by SHANK3 missense variants. SHANK3 deficiency and potential treatment options have been extensively studied in animal models, especially in mice, but also in rats and non-human primates. However, few of the proposed therapeutic strategies have translated into clinical practice yet.
MAIN TEXT: This review summarizes the literature concerning SHANK3-deficient animal models. In particular, the structural, behavioral, and neurological abnormalities are described and compared, providing a broad and comprehensive overview. Additionally, the underlying pathophysiologies and possible treatments that have been investigated in these models are discussed and evaluated with respect to their effect on ASD- or PMDS-associated phenotypes.
CONCLUSIONS: Animal models of SHANK3 deficiency generated by various genetic strategies, which determine the composition of the residual SHANK3-isoforms and affected cell types, show phenotypes resembling ASD and PMDS. The phenotypic heterogeneity across multiple models and studies resembles the variation of clinical severity in human ASD and PMDS patients. Multiple therapeutic strategies have been proposed and tested in animal models, which might lead to translational implications for human patients with ASD and/or PMDS. Future studies should explore the effects of new therapeutic approaches that target genetic haploinsufficiency, like CRISPR-mediated activation of promotors.