Recent advances in the genetics of neurodevelopmental disorders (NDDs) have identified the transcription factor FOXP2 as one of numerous risk genes, e.g. in autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). FOXP2 function is suggested to be involved in GABAergic signalling and numerous studies demonstrate that GABAergic function is altered in NDDs, thus disrupting the excitation/inhibition balance. Interestingly, GABAergic signalling components, including glutamate-decarboxylase 1 (Gad1) and GABA receptors, are putative transcriptional targets of FOXP2. However, the specific role of FOXP2 in the pathomechanism of NDDs remains elusive. Here we test the hypothesis that Foxp2 affects behavioural dimensions via GABAergic signalling using zebrafish as model organism. We demonstrate that foxp2 is expressed by a subset of GABAergic neurons located in brain regions involved in motor functions, including the subpallium, posterior tuberculum, thalamus and medulla oblongata. Using CRISPR/Cas9 gene-editing we generated a novel foxp2 zebrafish loss-of-function mutant that exhibits increased locomotor activity. Further, genetic and/or pharmacological disruption of Gad1 or GABA-A receptors causes increased locomotor activity, resembling the phenotype of foxp2 mutants. Application of muscimol, a GABA-A receptor agonist, rescues the hyperactive phenotype induced by the foxp2 loss-of-function. By reverse translation of the therapeutic effect on hyperactive behaviour exerted by methylphenidate, we note that application of methylphenidate evokes different responses in wildtype compared to foxp2 or gad1b loss-of-function animals. Together, our findings support the hypothesis that foxp2 regulates locomotor activity via GABAergic signalling. This provides one targetable mechanism, which may contribute to behavioural phenotypes commonly observed in NDDs.
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