Habituation Learning Is a Widely Affected Mechanism in Drosophila Models of Intellectual Disability and Autism Spectrum Disorders
Abstract Background Although habituation is one of the most ancient and fundamental forms of learning, its regulators and its relevance for human disease are poorly understood. Methods We manipulated the orthologs of 286 genes implicated in intellectual disability (ID) with or without comorbid autism spectrum disorder (ASD) specifically in Drosophila neurons, and we tested these models in light-off jump habituation. We dissected neuronal substrates underlying the identified habituation deficits and integrated genotype–phenotype annotations, gene ontologies, and interaction networks to determine the clinical features and molecular processes that are associated with habituation deficits. Results We identified >100 genes required for habituation learning. For 93 of these genes, a role in habituation learning was previously unknown. These genes characterize ID disorders with macrocephaly and/or overgrowth and comorbid ASD. Moreover, individuals with ASD from the Simons Simplex Collection carrying damaging de novo mutations in these genes exhibit increased aberrant behaviors associated with inappropriate, stereotypic speech. At the molecular level, ID genes required for normal habituation are enriched in synaptic function and converge on Ras/mitogen-activated protein kinase (Ras/MAPK) signaling. Both increased Ras/MAPK signaling in gamma-aminobutyric acidergic (GABAergic) neurons and decreased Ras/MAPK signaling in cholinergic neurons specifically inhibit the adaptive habituation response. Conclusions Our work supports the relevance of habituation learning to ASD, identifies an unprecedented number of novel habituation players, supports an emerging role for inhibitory neurons in habituation, and reveals an opposing, circuit-level-based mechanism for Ras/MAPK signaling. These findings establish habituation as a possible, widely applicable functional readout and target for pharmacologic intervention in ID/ASD.