Worms on the spectrum - C. elegansmodels in autism research

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Abstract

The small non-parasitic nematode Caenorhabditis elegans is widely used in neuroscience thanks to its well-understood development and lineage of the nervous system. Furthermore, C. elegans has been used to model many human developmental and neurological conditions to better understand disease mechanisms and identify potential therapeutic strategies. Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is the most prevalent of all neurodevelopmental disorders, and the C. elegans system may provide opportunities to learn more about this complex disorder. Since basic cell biology and biochemistry of the C. elegans nervous system is generally very similar to mammals, cellular or molecular phenotypes can be investigated, along with a repertoire of behaviours. For instance, worms have contributed greatly to the understanding of mechanisms underlying mutations in genes coding for synaptic proteins such as neuroligin and neurexin. Using worms to model neurodevelopmental disorders like ASD is an emerging topic that harbours great, untapped potential. This review summarizes the numerous contributions of C. elegans to the field of neurodevelopment and introduces the nematode system as a potential research tool to study essential roles of genes associated with ASD.

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