Astrocytes derived from ASD individuals alter behavior and destabilize neuronal activity through aberrant Ca2+ signaling

Megan Allen, Ben S. Huang, Michael J. Notaras, Aiman Lodhi, Estibaliz Barrio-Alonso, Pablo J. Lituma, Paul Wolujewicz, Jonathan Witztum, Francesco Longo, Maoshan Chen, David W. Greening, Eric Klann, M. Elizabeth Ross, Conor Liston, Dilek Colak

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The cellular mechanisms of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are poorly understood. Cumulative evidence suggests that abnormal synapse function underlies many features of this disease. Astrocytes regulate several key neuronal processes, including the formation of synapses and the modulation of synaptic plasticity. Astrocyte abnormalities have also been identified in the postmortem brain tissue of ASD individuals. However, it remains unclear whether astrocyte pathology plays a mechanistic role in ASD, as opposed to a compensatory response. To address this, we combined stem cell culturing with transplantation techniques to determine disease-specific properties inherent to ASD astrocytes. We demonstrate that ASD astrocytes induce repetitive behavior as well as impair memory and long-term potentiation when transplanted into the healthy mouse brain. These in vivo phenotypes were accompanied by reduced neuronal network activity and spine density caused by ASD astrocytes in hippocampal neurons in vitro. Transplanted ASD astrocytes also exhibit exaggerated Ca2+ fluctuations in chimeric brains. Genetic modulation of evoked Ca2+ responses in ASD astrocytes modulates behavior and neuronal activity deficits. Thus, this study determines that astrocytes derived from ASD iPSCs are sufficient to induce repetitive behavior as well as cognitive deficit, suggesting a previously unrecognized primary role for astrocytes in ASD.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2470-2484
Number of pages15
JournalMolecular Psychiatry
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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