Sexual divergence in microtubule function: the novel intranasal microtubule targeting SKIP normalizes axonal transport and enhances memory

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Activity-dependent neuroprotective protein (ADNP), essential for brain formation, is a frequent autism spectrum disorder (ASD)-mutated gene. ADNP associates with microtubule end-binding proteins (EBs) through its SxIP motif, to regulate dendritic spine formation and brain plasticity. Here, we reveal SKIP, a novel four-amino-acid peptide representing an EB-binding site, as a replacement therapy in an outbred Adnp-deficient mouse model. We discovered, for the first time, axonal transport deficits in Adnp+/- mice (measured by manganese-enhanced magnetic resonance imaging), with significant male-female differences. RNA sequencing evaluations showed major age, sex and genotype differences. Function enrichment and focus on major gene expression changes further implicated channel/transporter function and the cytoskeleton. In particular, a significant maturation change (1 month-five months) was observed in beta1 tubulin (Tubb1) mRNA, only in Adnp+/+ males, and sex-dependent increase in calcium channel mRNA (Cacna1e) in Adnp+/+ males compared with females. At the protein level, the Adnp+/- mice exhibited impaired hippocampal expression of the calcium channel (voltage-dependent calcium channel, Cacnb1) as well as other key ASD-linked genes including the serotonin transporter (Slc6a4), and the autophagy regulator, BECN1 (Beclin1), in a sex-dependent manner. Intranasal SKIP treatment normalized social memory in 8- to 9-month-old Adnp+/- -treated mice to placebo-control levels, while protecting axonal transport and ameliorating changes in ASD-like gene expression. The control, all D-amino analog D-SKIP, did not mimic SKIP activity. SKIP presents a novel prototype for potential ASD drug development, a prevalent unmet medical need.

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