MEK inhibition ameliorates social behavior phenotypes in a Spred1 knockout mouse model for RASopathy disorders

Sarah C. Borrie, Ellen Plasschaert, Zsuzsanna Callaerts-Vegh, Akihiko Yoshimura, Rudi D’Hooge, Ype Elgersma, Steven A. Kushner, Eric Legius, Hilde Brems

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


Background: RASopathies are a group of disorders that result from mutations in genes coding for proteins involved in regulating the Ras-MAPK signaling pathway, and have an increased incidence of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Legius syndrome is a rare RASopathy caused by loss-of-function mutations in the SPRED1 gene. The patient phenotype is similar to, but milder than, Neurofibromatosis type 1—another RASopathy caused by loss-of-function mutations in the NF1 gene. RASopathies exhibit increased activation of Ras-MAPK signaling and commonly manifest with cognitive impairments and ASD. Here, we investigated if a Spred1-/- mouse model for Legius syndrome recapitulates ASD-like symptoms, and whether targeting the Ras-MAPK pathway has therapeutic potential in this RASopathy mouse model. Methods: We investigated social and communicative behaviors in Spred1-/- mice and probed therapeutic mechanisms underlying the observed behavioral phenotypes by pharmacological targeting of the Ras-MAPK pathway with the MEK inhibitor PD325901. Results: Spred1-/- mice have robust increases in social dominance in the automated tube test and reduced adult ultrasonic vocalizations during social communication. Neonatal ultrasonic vocalization was also altered, with significant differences in spectral properties. Spred1-/- mice also exhibit impaired nesting behavior. Acute MEK inhibitor treatment in adulthood with PD325901 reversed the enhanced social dominance in Spred1-/- mice to normal levels, and improved nesting behavior in adult Spred1-/- mice. Limitations: This study used an acute treatment protocol to administer the drug. It is not known what the effects of longer-term treatment would be on behavior. Further studies titrating the lowest dose of this drug that is required to alter Spred1-/- social behavior are still required. Finally, our findings are in a homozygous mouse model, whereas patients carry heterozygous mutations. These factors should be considered before any translational conclusions are drawn. Conclusions: These results demonstrate for the first time that social behavior phenotypes in a mouse model for RASopathies (Spred1-/-) can be acutely reversed. This highlights a key role for Ras-MAPK dysregulation in mediating social behavior phenotypes in mouse models for ASD, suggesting that proper regulation of Ras-MAPK signaling is important for social behavior.

Original languageEnglish
Article number53
JournalMolecular Autism
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2021 Dec


  • Autism spectrum disorder
  • Neurofibromatosis type 1
  • RASopathy
  • Social dominance
  • Spred1
  • Ultrasonic vocalization

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Developmental Neuroscience
  • Developmental Biology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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