Cortical overgrowth in a preclinical forebrain organoid model of CNTNAP2-associated autism spectrum disorder

We utilized forebrain organoids generated from induced pluripotent stem cells of patients with a syndromic form of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) with a homozygous protein-truncating mutation in CNTNAP2, to study its effects on embryonic cortical development. Patients with this mutation present with clinical characteristics of brain overgrowth. Patient-derived forebrain organoids displayed an increase in volume and total cell number that is driven by increased neural progenitor proliferation. Single-cell RNA sequencing revealed PFC-excitatory neurons to be the key cell types expressing CNTNAP2. Gene ontology analysis of differentially expressed genes (DEgenes) corroborates aberrant cellular proliferation. Moreover, the DEgenes are enriched for ASD-associated genes. The cell-type-specific signature genes of the CNTNAP2-expressing neurons are associated with clinical phenotypes previously described in patients. The organoid overgrowth phenotypes were largely rescued after correction of the mutation using CRISPR-Cas9. This CNTNAP2-organoid model provides opportunity for further mechanistic inquiry and development of new therapeutic strategies for ASD.