An old model with new insights: endogenous retroviruses drive the evolvement toward ASD susceptibility and hijack transcription machinery during development.
Lin C-W., Ellegood J., Tamada K., Miura I., Konda M., Takeshita K., Atarashi K., Lerch JP., Wakana S., McHugh TJ., Takumi T.
The BTBR T+Itpr3tf/J (BTBR/J) strain is one of the most valid models of idiopathic autism, serving as a potent forward genetics tool to dissect the complexity of autism. We found that a sister strain with an intact corpus callosum, BTBR TF/ArtRbrc (BTBR/R), showed more prominent autism core symptoms but moderate ultrasonic communication/normal hippocampus-dependent memory, which may mimic autism in the high functioning spectrum. Intriguingly, disturbed epigenetic silencing mechanism leads to hyperactive endogenous retrovirus (ERV), a mobile genetic element of ancient retroviral infection, which increases de novo copy number variation (CNV) formation in the two BTBR strains. This feature makes the BTBR strain a still evolving multiple-loci model toward higher ASD susceptibility. Furthermore, active ERV, analogous to virus infection, evades the integrated stress response (ISR) of host defense and hijacks the transcriptional machinery during embryonic development in the BTBR strains. These results suggest dual roles of ERV in the pathogenesis of ASD, driving host genome evolution at a long-term scale and managing cellular pathways in response to viral infection, which has immediate effects on embryonic development. The wild-type Draxin expression in BTBR/R also makes this substrain a more precise model to investigate the core etiology of autism without the interference of impaired forebrain bundles as in BTBR/J.