The neuroligins and the synaptic pathway in Autism Spectrum Disorder

Laura Trobiani, Maria Meringolo, Tamara Diamanti, Yves Bourne, Pascale Marchot, Giuseppina Martella, Luciana Dini, Antonio Pisani, Antonella De Jaco, Paola Bonsi

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


The genetics underlying autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is complex and heterogeneous, and de novo variants are found in genes converging in functional biological processes. Neuronal communication, including trans-synaptic signaling involving two families of cell-adhesion proteins, the presynaptic neurexins and the postsynaptic neuroligins, is one of the most recurrently affected pathways in ASD. Given the role of these proteins in determining synaptic function, abnormal synaptic plasticity and failure to establish proper synaptic contacts might represent mechanisms underlying risk of ASD. More than 30 mutations have been found in the neuroligin genes. Most of the resulting residue substitutions map in the extracellular, cholinesterase-like domain of the protein, and impair protein folding and trafficking. Conversely, the stalk and intracellular domains are less affected. Accordingly, several genetic animal models of ASD have been generated, showing behavioral and synaptic alterations. The aim of this review is to discuss the current knowledge on ASD-linked mutations in the neuroligin proteins and their effect on synaptic function, in various brain areas and circuits.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)37-51
Number of pages15
JournalNeuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2020


  • Animal model
  • Behaviour
  • Endoplasmic reticulum
  • excitatory/inhibitory balance
  • Genetics
  • Homeostatic mechanisms
  • Misfolding
  • Physiology
  • Synaptic plasticity
  • Trafficking
  • Unfolded protein response

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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