Postmortem studies have revealed increased density of excitatory synapses in the brains of individuals with autism, with a putative link to aberrant mTOR-dependent synaptic pruning. Autism is also characterized by atypical macroscale functional connectivity as measured with resting-state fMRI (rsfMRI). These observations raise the question of whether excess of synapses cause aberrant functional connectivity in autism. Using rsfMRI, electrophysiology and in silico modelling in Tsc2 haploinsufficient mice, we show that mTOR-dependent increased spine density is associated with autism-like stereotypies and cortico-striatal hyperconnectivity. These deficits are completely rescued by pharmacological inhibition of mTOR. Notably, we further demonstrate that children with idiopathic autism exhibit analogous cortical-striatal hyperconnectivity, and document that this connectivity fingerprint is enriched for autism-dysregulated genes interacting with mTOR or TSC2. Finally, we show that the identified transcriptomic signature is predominantly expressed in a subset of children with autism, thereby defining a segregable autism subtype. Our findings causally link mTOR-related synaptic pathology to large-scale network aberrations, revealing a unifying multi-scale framework that mechanistically reconciles developmental synaptopathy and functional hyperconnectivity in autism.
bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience