Abstract

An interneuron alteration has been proposed as a source for the modified balance of excitation / inhibition in the cerebral cortex in autism. We previously demonstrated a decreased number of parvalbumin (PV)-expressing interneurons in prefrontal cortex in autism. PV-expressing interneurons include chandelier (Ch) and basket (Bsk) cells. We asked whether the decreased PV+ interneurons affected both Ch cells and Bsk cells in autism. The lack of single markers to specifically label Ch cells or Bsk cells presented an obstacle for addressing this question. We devised a method to discern between PV-Ch and PV-Bsk cells based on the differential expression of Vicia villosa lectin (VVA). VVA binds to N-acetylgalactosamine, that is present in the perineuronal net surrounding some cell types where it plays a role in intercellular communication. N-acetylgalactosamine is present in the perineuronal net surrounding Bsk but not Ch cells. We found that the number of Ch cells is consistently decreased in the prefrontal cortex of autistic (n = 10) when compared with control (n = 10) cases, while the number of Bsk cells is not as severely affected. This finding expand our understanding of GABAergic system functioning in the human cerebral cortex in autism, which will impact translational research directed towards providing better treatment paradigms for individuals with autism.

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