Early-life stress impairs developmental programming in Cadherin 13 (CDH13)-deficient mice

Dominik P. Kiser, Sandy Popp, Angelika G. Schmitt-Boehrer, Tatyana Strekalova, Daniel L. van den Hove, Klaus-Peter Lesch, Olga Rivero*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Objective: Cadherin-13 (CDH13), a member of the calcium-dependent cell adhesion molecule family, has been linked to neurodevelopmental disorders, including autism spectrum (ASD) and attention-deficit/hyperactivity (ADHD) disorders, but also to depression. In the adult brain, CDH13 expression is restricted e.g. to the presynaptic compartment of inhibitory GABAergic synapses in the hippocampus and Cdh13 knockout mice show an increased inhibitory drive onto hippocampal CA1 pyramidal neurons, leading to a shift in excitatory/inhibitory balance. CDH13 is also moderating migration of serotonergic neurons in the dorsal raphe nucleus, establishing projections preferentially to the thalamus and cerebellum during brain development. Furthermore, CDH13 is upregulated by chronic stress as well as in depression, suggesting a role in early-life adaptation to stressful experience. Here, we therefore investigated the interaction between Cdh13 variation and neonatal maternal separation (MS) in mice.

Methods: Male and female wild-type (Cdh13(+/+)), heterozygous (Cdh13(+/-)) and homozygous (Cdh13(-)(/-)) knockout mice exposed to MS, or daily handling as control, were subjected to a battery of behavioural tests to assess motor activity, learning and memory as well as anxiety-like behaviour. A transcriptome analysis of the hippocampus was performed in an independent cohort of mice which was exposed to MS or handling, but remained naive for behavioural testing.

Results: MS lead to increased anxiety-like behaviour in Cdh13(-/-) mice compared to the other two MS groups. Cdh13(-/-) mice showed a context-dependent effect on stress- and anxiety-related behaviour, impaired extinction learning following contextual fear conditioning and decreased impulsivity, as well as a mild decrease in errors in the Barnes maze and reduced risk-taking in the light-dark transition test after MS. We also show sex differences, with increased locomotor activity in female Cdh13(-/-) mice, but unaltered impulsivity and activity in male Cdh13(-/-) mice. Transcriptome analysis revealed several pathways associated with cell surface/adhesion molecules to be altered following Cdh13 deficiency, together with an influence on endoplasmic reticulum function.

Conclusion: MS resulted in increased stress resilience, increased exploration and an overall anxiolytic behavioural phenotype in male Cdh13(+/+) and Cdh13(+/-) mice. Cdh13 deficiency, however, obliterated most of the effects caused by early-life stress, with Cdh13(-/-) mice exhibiting delayed habituation, no reduction of anxiety-like behaviour and decreased fear extinction. Our behavioural findings indicate a role of CDH13 in the programming of and adaptation to early-life stress. Finally, our transcriptomic data support the view of CDH13 as a neuroprotective factor as well as a mediator in cell-cell interactions, with an impact on synaptic plasticity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)158-168
Number of pages11
JournalProgress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology & Biological Psychiatry
Publication statusPublished - 8 Mar 2019


  • Cadherin-13 (CDH13)
  • T-cadherin
  • Neurodevelopment
  • Autism
  • ADHD
  • Depression
  • Psychiatric disorders
  • Early-life stress
  • Mouse
  • RNA sequencing
  • Endoplasmic reticulum stress
  • Adhesion
  • GENE


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