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Polymorphisms that alter serotonin transporter SERT expression and functionality increase the risks for autism and psychiatric traits. Here, we investigate how SERT controls serotonin signaling in developing CNS in mice. SERT is transiently expressed in specific sets of glutamatergic neurons and uptakes extrasynaptic serotonin during perinatal CNS development. We show that SERT expression in glutamatergic thalamocortical axons (TCAs) dictates sensory map architecture. Knockout of SERT in TCAs causes lasting alterations in TCA patterning, spatial organizations of cortical neurons, and dendritic arborization in sensory cortex. Pharmacological reduction of serotonin synthesis during the first postnatal week rescues sensory maps in SERT mice. Furthermore, knockdown of SERT expression in serotonin-producing neurons does not impair barrel maps. We propose that spatiotemporal SERT expression in non-serotonin-producing neurons represents a determinant in early life genetic programming of cortical circuits. Perturbing this SERT function could be involved in the origin of sensory and cognitive deficits associated with neurodevelopmental disorders.
Copyright © 2015 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.