Bertoni A - Schaller F - Tyzio R - Gaillard S - Santini F - Xolin M - Diabira D - Vaidyanathan R - Matarazzo V - Medina I - Hammock E - Zhang J - Chini B - Gaiarsa JL - Muscatelli F
Oxytocin is an important regulator of the social brain. In some animal models of autism, notably in Magel2-deficient mice, peripheral administration of oxytocin in infancy improves social behaviors until adulthood. However, neither the mechanisms responsible for social deficits nor the mechanisms by which such oxytocin administration has long-term effects are known. Here, we aimed to clarify these oxytocin-dependent mechanisms, focusing on social memory performance. Using in situ hybridization (RNAscope), we have established that Magel2 and oxytocin receptor are co-expressed in the dentate gyrus and CA2/CA3 hippocampal regions involved in the circuitry underlying social memory. Then, we have shown that Magel2-deficient mice, evaluated in a three-chamber test, present a deficit in social memory. Next, in hippocampus, we conducted neuroanatomical and functional studies using immunostaining, oxytocin-binding experiments, ex vivo electrophysiological recordings, calcium imaging and biochemical studies. We demonstrated: an increase of the GABAergic activity of CA3-pyramidal cells associated with an increase in the quantity of oxytocin receptors and of somatostatin interneurons in both DG and CA2/CA3 regions. We also revealed a delay in the GABAergic development sequence in Magel2-deficient pups, linked to phosphorylation modifications of KCC2. Above all, we demonstrated the positive effects of subcutaneous administration of oxytocin in the mutant neonates, restoring hippocampal alterations and social memory at adulthood. Although clinical trials are debated, this study highlights the mechanisms by which peripheral oxytocin administration in neonates impacts the brain and demonstrates the therapeutic value of oxytocin to treat infants with autism spectrum disorders.