Effects of prenatal exposure to valproic acid on the development of juvenile-typical social play in rats

Autism is a severe neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by qualitative impairments in social behavior, communication, and aberrant repetitive behaviors. A major focus of animal models of autism has been to mimic the social deficits of the disorder. The present study assessed whether rats exposed prenatally to valproic acid (VPA) show deficits in social play as juveniles that are consistent with the social deficits observed in autism. Dams were exposed to an acute dose of VPA on gestational day 12.5. Later, the playful interactions and associated ultrasonic vocalizations of the juveniles were examined. It was predicted that VPA-treated rats should play less than the controls. Characteristic of neurobehavioral insult at this early age, the VPA-treated juveniles showed significant increases in the frequency of body shakes and sexual mounting, but played at the same frequency as the controls. However, when playing, they were less likely to use tactics that facilitated bodily contact and vocalized less. These data suggest that prenatal VPA exposure disrupts some aspects of being able to communicate effectively and engage partners in dynamic interactions – deficits that are consistent with those observed in autism. © 2015 Wolters Kluwer Health, Inc. All rights reserved.

Autism is a severe neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by qualitative impairments in social behavior, communication, and aberrant repetitive behaviors. A major focus of animal models of autism has been to mimic the social deficits of the disorder. The present study assessed whether rats exposed prenatally to valproic acid (VPA) show deficits in social play as juveniles that are consistent with the social deficits observed in autism. Dams were exposed to an acute dose of VPA on gestational day 12.5. Later, the playful interactions and associated ultrasonic vocalizations of the juveniles were examined. It was predicted that VPA-treated rats should play less than the controls. Characteristic of neurobehavioral insult at this early age, the VPA-treated juveniles showed significant increases in the frequency of body shakes and sexual mounting, but played at the same frequency as the controls. However, when playing, they were less likely to use tactics that facilitated bodily contact and vocalized less. These data suggest that prenatal VPA exposure disrupts some aspects of being able to communicate effectively and engage partners in dynamic interactions – deficits that are consistent with those observed in autism. © 2015 Wolters Kluwer Health, Inc. All rights reserved.

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