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CHD8 (chromodomain helicase DNA-binding protein 8) is a chromatin remodeler associated with autism spectrum disorders. Homozygous Chd8 deletion in mice leads to embryonic lethality, making it difficult to assess whether CHD8 regulates brain development and whether CHD8 haploinsufficiency-related macrocephaly reflects normal CHD8 functions. Here, we report that homozygous conditional knockout of Chd8 restricted to neocortical glutamatergic neurons causes apoptosis-dependent near-complete elimination of neocortical structures. These mice, however, display normal survival and hyperactivity, anxiolytic-like behavior, and increased social interaction. They also show largely normal auditory function and moderately impaired visual and motor functions but enhanced whisker-related somatosensory function. These changes accompany thalamic hyperactivity, revealed by 15.2-Tesla fMRI, and increased intrinsic excitability and decreased inhibitory synaptic transmission in thalamic ventral posterior medial (VPM) neurons involved in somatosensation. These results suggest that excitatory neuronal CHD8 critically regulates neocortical development through anti-apoptotic mechanisms, neocortical elimination distinctly affects cognitive behaviors and sensory-motor functions in mice, and Chd8 haploinsufficiency-related macrocephaly might represent compensatory responses.

Original publication




Journal article


Cell Rep

Publication Date





CHD8, TRN, VPM, autism, calcium imaging, cortex, functional MRI, neurodevelopment, sensory hypersensitivity, somatosensory, thalamic reticular nucleus, thalamus, ventral posterior medial, whisker