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Pharmacology, biochemistry, and behavior

Increased sociability and gene expression of oxytocin and its receptor in the brains of rats affected prenatally by valproic acid.


PMID 25662821

Abstract

Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterised by the disruption of social interactions. Autistic animal models play a crucial role in neurophysiologic research on this disorder. One of these models is based on rats that have been prenatally treated with valproic acid - VPA rats. The aim of our study performed with this model was to investigate changes in sociability and gene expression of neuropeptides and receptors involved in regulating social behaviour. We focused on gene expression in the hypothalamus, where the neuropeptides oxytocin (OT) and arginine-vasopressin (AVP) are produced, as well as oxytocin receptors (OTR) in certain neuronal structures involved in the creation of social abilities. Our research showed that VPA rats spent more time in the part with an unknown animal and less time in the central part of a three chamber sociability test apparatus than control animals. The latency period of VPA rats before initiating social contact was decreased. In addition, during weaning, VPA female rats spent more time in direct interaction with an unknown rat. We also found that adult VPA rats had an increased expression of OT in the hypothalamic supraoptic and paraventricular nuclei and of OTR in the medial prefrontal cortex, piriform cortex, cortex-amygdala transition zone and the region of the basolateral and basomedial amygdaloid nuclei compared with controls. To sum up, we observed that a single prenatal injection of VPA increased social behaviour and gene expression of OT and OTR in neurological structures connected with the social behaviour of rats. One unanticipated finding was the absence of one of the core symptoms of autism in VPA rats, suggesting a decreased ability to understand intraspecific communication signals.

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