Altered brain-wide auditory networks in a zebrafish model of fragile X syndrome

Lena Constantin, Rebecca E. Poulsen, Itia A. Favre-Bulle, Michael A. Taylor, Biao Sun, Geoffrey J. Goodhill, Gilles C. Vanwalleghem, Ethan K. Scott

Research output: Working paperPreprint


Background: Loss or disrupted expression of the FMR1 gene causes fragile X syndrome (FXS), the most common monogenetic form of autism in humans. Although disruptions in sensory processing are core traits of FXS and autism, the neural underpinnings of these phenotypes are poorly understood. Using calcium imaging to record from the entire brain at cellular resolution, we investigated neuronal responses to visual and auditory stimuli in larval zebrafish, using fmr1 mutants to model FXS. The purpose of this study was to model the alterations of sensory networks, brain-wide and at cellular resolution, that underlie the sensory aspects of FXS and autism. Results: Combining functional analyses with the neurons' anatomical positions, we found that fmr1-/- animals have normal responses to visual motion. However, there were several alterations in the auditory processing of fmr1-/- animals. Auditory responses were more plentiful in hindbrain structures and in the thalamus. The thalamus, torus semicircularis, and tegmentum had clusters of neurons that responded more strongly to auditory stimuli in fmr1-/- animals. Functional connectivity networks showed more inter-regional connectivity at lower sound intensities (a - 3 to - 6 dB shift) in fmr1-/- larvae compared to wild type. Finally, the decoding capacities of specific components of the ascending auditory pathway were altered: the octavolateralis nucleus within the hindbrain had significantly stronger decoding of auditory amplitude while the telencephalon had weaker decoding in fmr1-/- mutants. Conclusions: We demonstrated that fmr1-/- larvae are hypersensitive to sound, with a 3-6 dB shift in sensitivity, and identified four sub-cortical brain regions with more plentiful responses and/or greater response strengths to auditory stimuli. We also constructed an experimentally supported model of how auditory information may be processed brain-wide in fmr1-/- larvae. Our model suggests that the early ascending auditory pathway transmits more auditory information, with less filtering and modulation, in this model of FXS. Keywords: Auditory perception; Autism spectrum disorder; Brain/physiopathology; CGaMP; Calcium imaging; Fragile X syndrome; Graph theory; Light-sheet microscopy; Sensory systems; Zebrafish.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusSubmitted - 16 Sept 2020
Externally publishedYes

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