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Sex-specific stress-related behavioral phenotypes and central amygdala dysfunction in a mouse model of 16p11.2 microdeletion

By Jacqueline R Giovanniello, Sandra Ahrens, Kai Yu, Bo Li

Posted 15 Nov 2020
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2020.11.12.380501

Substantial evidence indicates that a microdeletion on human chromosome 16p11.2 is linked to neurodevelopmental disorders including autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Carriers of this deletion show divergent symptoms besides the core features of ASD, such as anxiety and emotional symptoms. The neural mechanisms underlying these symptoms are poorly understood. Here we report mice heterozygous for a deletion allele of the genomic region corresponding to the human 16p11.2 microdeletion locus (i.e., the '16p11.2 del/+ mice') have sex-specific anxiety-related behavioral and neural circuit changes. We found that female, but not male 16p11.2 del/+ mice showed enhanced fear generalization - a hallmark of anxiety disorders - after auditory fear conditioning, and displayed increased anxiety-like behaviors after physical restraint stress. Notably, such sex-specific behavioral changes were paralleled by an increase in activity in central amygdala neurons projecting to the globus pallidus in female, but not male 16p11.2 del/+ mice. Together, these results reveal female-specific anxiety phenotypes related to 16p11.2 microdeletion syndrome and a potential underlying neural circuit mechanism. Our study therefore identifies previously underappreciated sex-specific behavioral and neural changes in a genetic model of 16p11.2 microdeletion syndrome, and highlights the importance of investigating female-specific aspects of this syndrome for targeted treatment strategies. ### Competing Interest Statement The authors have declared no competing interest.

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