The excitatory and inhibitory synaptic balance in neurodevelopmental disorders: the role of neuroligins

Neurodevelopmental disorders result from gaps, delays or variations in the way a child’s brain develops, often interfering with learning, behaviour and adaptability. Research has shown that neurodevelopmental disorders have a strong genetic basis, yet the genes involved have not been clearly identified. The onset of disorders such as autism, fragile-x and Rett syndrome occurs after neurons have developed, during the time connections between neurons (synapses) are being formed to facilitate transmission of signals from one neuron to another. These disorders may, therefore, result from altered synapse formation and maintenance. Some of the genes thought to be associated with these disorders produce proteins involved in synapse formation and maintenance. Alterations in the size, form and structure of synaptic components have been demonstrated in fragile-x syndrome, Rett syndrome and autistic spectrum disorders. This suggests that these diseases are associated with abnormal or halted synaptic development and maturation. Building on her MSFHR-funded Master’s research, Rochelle Hines is studying specific proteins involved in synapse formation and maintenance to assess whether and how they contribute to the development of neurodevelopmental disorders.