Improvement of autistic-like behaviors in adult rats prenatally exposed to valproic acid through early suppression of NMDA receptor function
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Autism spectrum disorder (ASD), the fastest growing neurodevelopmental disorder, is characterized by social deficits, repetitive/stereotypic activity, and impaired verbal and nonverbal communication and is commonly diagnosed at early stages of life. Based on the excitatory-inhibitory imbalance theory of autism, some recent animal experiments have reported amelioration in autistic-like phenotypes in adult animals following acute treatment of NMDA antagonists. However, we suggested the neonatal period as a critical period for NMDA antagonist intervention.
This experiment was designed to determine the role of postnatal MK-801, an NMDA receptor blocker, in the prenatal valproic acid (VPA) rat model of ASD.
The model of autism was induced by subcutaneous administration of valproic acid (600 mg/kg) to pregnant rats at gestational day 12.5. The effects of MK-801 (0.03 mg/kg, from postnatal day 6–10) in correcting ASD-associated behaviors in male offspring were assessed by open-field, three-chambered social interaction tests. Moreover, the nociceptive threshold was measured by tail flick and hot plate. Behavioral tests were performed on PND 55–60. Nissl staining was performed to confirm the safety of 0.03 mg/kg MK-801 for the brain.
We reported that MK-801 rescued social deficits, repetitive behaviors (self-grooming), anxiety-related behavior, and the low nociceptive threshold in the VPA-treated rats. Further, histological examination showed that there were no significant differences among all the groups in terms of the neuronal survival rate.
Our results showed that postnatal low-dose MK-801 improved ASD-associated behaviors in the VPA-treated rats and that early exposure to NMDA antagonist resulted in permanent changes in adult behavior.
KeywordsAutism Valproic acid MK-801 NMDA antagonist Postnatal period
This research article is a part of the first author’s M.Sc. thesis. Funding for this study was provided by Kerman University of Medical Sciences, Kerman, Iran (Grant ID: 96000183).
Compliance with ethical standards
All the following experiments and animal care protocols were approved by the Animal Experiment Committee at the Kerman Medical University (Ethics code: IR.KMU.REC.1396.183) and performed in line with the “NIH Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals.”
Conflict of interest
The authors declare that there are no conflicts of interest.
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