Alterations in peripheral and central indices of serotonin (5-hydroxytryptamine, 5-HT) production, storage and signaling have long been associated with autism. The 5-HT transporter gene (HTT, SERT, SLC6A4) has received considerable attention as a potential risk locus for autism-spectrum disorders, as well as disorders with overlapping symptoms, including obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Here, we review our efforts to characterize rare, nonsynonymous polymorphisms in SERT derived from multiplex pedigrees carrying diagnoses of autism and OCD and present the initial stages of our effort to model one of these variants, Gly56Ala, in vivo. We generated a targeting vector to produce the Gly56Ala substitution in the Slc6a4 locus by homologous recombination. Following removal of a neomycin resistance selection cassette, animals exhibiting germline transmission of the Ala56 variant were bred to establish a breeding colony on a 129S6 background, suitable for initial evaluation of biochemical, physiological and behavioral alterations relative to SERT Gly56 (wild-type) animals. SERT Ala56 mice were achieved and exhibit a normal pattern of transmission. The initial growth and gross morphology of these animals is comparable to wildtype littermate controls. The SERT Ala56 variant can be propagated in 129S6 mice without apparent disruption of fertility and growth. We discuss both the opportunities and challenges that await the physiological/behavioral analysis of Gly56Ala transgenic mice, with particular reference to modeling autism-associated traits.
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