Disturbances in the ratio of excitatory and inhibitory synapses may have implications for neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism and mental retardation. During the past years, both neurexins and neuroligins have been identified as candidate genes for autism in screening approaches.
Although much work remains to be done to establish their role in disease, the disruption of the neuroligin/neurexin complex may significantly alter the ratio between excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmission, manifesting itself in an impaired cognitive development, and possibly psychiatric disorders such as autism.
In this project, we study the molecular and cellular mechanisms how neurexins, and most recently their extracellular ligand neurexophilins, affect the excitatory-inhibitory balance in neural networks that have been involved in the ethiology of autism. Neurexophilins appear of particular interest in this process because its expression is temporally and spatially highly regulated, and no other receptor has been identified yet.