Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder with a high co-morbidity of epilepsy and associated with hundreds of rare risk factors. NRXN1 deletion is among the commonest rare genetic factors shared by ASD, schizophrenia, intellectual disability, epilepsy, and developmental delay. However, how NRXN1 deletions lead to different clinical symptoms is unknown. Patient-derived cells are essential to investigate the functional consequences of NRXN1 lesions to human neurons in different diseases.
Skin biopsies were donated by five healthy donors and three ASD patients carrying NRXN1¿+/- deletions. Seven control and six NRXN1¿+/- iPSC lines were derived and differentiated into day 100 cortical excitatory neurons using dual SMAD inhibition. Calcium (Ca2+) imaging was performed using Fluo4-AM, and the properties of Ca2+ transients were compared between two groups of neurons. Transcriptome analysis was carried out to undercover molecular pathways associated with NRXN1¿+/- neurons.
NRXN1¿+/- neurons were found to display altered calcium dynamics, with significantly increased frequency, duration, and amplitude of Ca2+ transients. Whole genome RNA sequencing also revealed altered ion transport and transporter activity, with upregulated voltage-gated calcium channels as one of the most significant pathways in NRXN1¿+/- neurons identified by STRING and GSEA analyses.
This is the first report to show that human NRXN1¿+/- neurons derived from ASD patients' iPSCs present novel phenotypes of upregulated VGCCs and increased Ca2+ transients, which may facilitate the development of drug screening assays for the treatment of ASD.