Marilena Raciti 1 , * , Jahan Salma 1 , Stefan Spulber 1 , Giulia Gaudenzi 1 , Zahra Khalajzeyqami 1 , Mirko Conti 1 , Britt-Marie Anderlid 2 , 3 , Anna Falk 1 , Ola Hermanson 1 , Sandra Ceccatelli 1 , *
21 June 2019
Controversial evidence points to a possible involvement of methylmercury (MeHg) in the etiopathogenesis of autism spectrum disorders (ASD). In the present study, we used human neuroepithelial stem cells from healthy donors and from an autistic patient bearing a bi-allelic deletion in the gene encoding for NRXN1 to evaluate whether MeHg would induce cellular changes comparable to those seen in cells derived from the ASD patient. In healthy cells, a subcytotoxic concentration of MeHg enhanced astroglial differentiation similarly to what observed in the diseased cells (N1), as shown by the number of GFAP positive cells and immunofluorescence signal intensity. In both healthy MeHg-treated and N1 untreated cells, aberrations in Notch pathway activity seemed to play a critical role in promoting the differentiation toward glia. Accordingly, treatment with the established Notch inhibitor DAPT reversed the altered differentiation. Although our data are not conclusive since only one of the genes involved in ASD is considered, the results provide novel evidence suggesting that developmental exposure to MeHg, even at subcytotoxic concentrations, induces alterations in astroglial differentiation similar to those observed in ASD.