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Williams syndrome (WS) is a rare neurodevelopmental disorder caused by the hemideletion of approximately 25-28 genes at 7q11.23. Its unusual social and cognitive phenotype is most strikingly characterized by the disinhibition of social behavior, in addition to reduced global IQ, with a relative sparing of language ability. Hypersociality and increased social approach behavior in WS may represent a unique inability to inhibit responses to specific social stimuli, which is likely associated with abnormalities of frontostriatal circuitry. The striatum is characterized by a diversity of interneuron subtypes, including inhibitory parvalbumin-positive interneurons (PV+) and excitatory cholinergic interneurons (Ch+). Animal model research has identified an important role for these specialized cells in regulating social approach behavior. Previous research in humans identified a depletion of interneuron subtypes associated with neuropsychiatric disorders. Here, we examined the density of PV+ and Ch+ interneurons in the striatum of 13 WS and neurotypical (NT) subjects. We found a significant reduction in the density of Ch+ interneurons in the medial caudate nucleus and nucleus accumbens, important regions receiving cortical afferents from the orbitofrontal and ventromedial prefrontal cortex, and circuitry involved in language and reward systems. No significant difference in the distribution of PV+ interneurons was found. The pattern of decreased Ch+ interneuron densities in WS differs from patterns of interneuron depletion found in other disorders.


Kari L Hanson, Caroline H Lew, Branka Hrvoj-Mihic, Deion Cuevas, Demi M Z Greiner, Kimberly M Groeniger, Melissa K Edler, Eric Halgren, Ursula Bellugi, Mary Ann Raghanti, Katerina Semendeferi. Decreased density of cholinergic interneurons in striatal territories in Williams syndrome. Brain structure & function. 2020 Apr;225(3):1019-1032

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PMID: 32189114

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