A rapid chemical-genetic screen utilizing impaired movement phenotypes inC. elegans: Input into genetics of neurodevelopmental disorders

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Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is the most common neurodevelopmental disorder with a constantly increasing prevalence. Model organisms may be tools to identify underlying cellular and molecular mechanisms, as well as aid the discovery and development of novel therapeutic approaches. A simple animal such as the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans may provide insights into the extreme complexity of ASD genetics. Despite its potential, using C. elegans in ASD research is a controversial approach and has not yet been used extensively in this context. In this study, we present a screening approach of potential C. elegans mutants as potential ASD models. We screened these mutants for motor-deficiency phenotypes, which can be exploited to study underlying mechanisms of the disorder. Selected motor-deficient mutants were then used in a comprehensive drug screen of over 3900 compounds, including many FDA-approved and natural molecules, that were analyzed for their ability to suppress motility defects caused by ASD-associated gene orthologues. This genetic-chemical approach, i.e. establishing C. elegans models for ASD and screening of a well-characterized compound library, might be a promising first step to understand the mechanisms of how gene variations cause neuronal dysfunction, leading to ASD and other neurological disorders. Positively acting compounds could also be promising candidates for preclinical studies.

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