Altered expression of circadian rhythm and extracellular matrix genes in the medial prefrontal cortex of a valproic acid rat model of autism
Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are a highly heterogeneous group of neurodevelopmental disorders caused by complex interplay between various genes and environmental factors during embryonic development. Changes at the molecular, cellular and neuroanatomical levels are especially evident in the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) of ASD patients and are particularly contributing to social impairments. In the present study we tested the hypothesis that altered neuronal development and plasticity, as seen in the mPFC of ASD individuals, may result from aberrant expression of functionally connected genes. Towards this end, we combined transcriptome sequencing and computational gene ontology analysis to identify the molecular networks impaired in the mPFC of a valproic acid (VPA) rat model of autism. This investigation identified two subsets of genes differentially expressed in the mPFC of VPA rats: one group of genes being functionally involved in the regulation of the circadian rhythm, while the second group encompasses a set of differentially expressed collagen genes acting within the extracellular matrix. Ultimately, our integrated transcriptome analysis identified a distinct subset of altered gene networks in the mPFC of VPA rats, contributing to our understanding of autism at the molecular level, thus providing novel insight into the genetic alterations associated with this neurodevelopmental disorder.