Mutations in the postsynaptic transmembrane protein neuroligin-3 are highly correlative with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) and intellectual disabilities (IDs). Fear learning is well studied in models of these disorders, however differences in fear response behaviours are often overlooked. Whilst examining fear in a rat model of ASD/ID lacking Nlgn3, we observed that they display a greater propensity to exhibit flight responses in contrast to classic freezing seen in wildtypes during fearful situations. Consequently, we examined the physiological underpinnings of this in neurons of the periaqueductal grey (PAG), a midbrain area involved in flight-or-freeze responses. In ex vivo slices from Nlgn3-/y rats, dorsal PAG (dPAG) neurons showed intrinsic hyperexcitability. Further analysis of this revealed lower magnitude in vivo dPAG stimulation evoked flight behaviour in Nlgn3-/y rats, indicating the functional impact of the increased cellular excitability. This study provides new insight into potential pathophysiologies leading to emotional disorders in individuals with ASD.
bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience