de Theije CG, Koelink PJ, Korte-Bouws GA, Lopes da Silva S, Korte SM, Olivier B, Garssen J, Kraneveld AD (2013) Brain Behav Immun. 2013 Dec 7. pii: S0889-1591(13)00589-8. doi: 10.1016/j.bbi.2013.12.004
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a cluster of neurodevelopmental disorders characterized by impairments in communication, social interest and stereotypical behaviour. Dysfunction of the intestinal tract is reported in patients with ASD and implicated in the development and severity of ASD symptoms. However, more research is required to investigate the association of intestinal problems with ASD and the potential underlying mechanisms.
The purpose of this study was to investigate comorbid symptoms of intestinal inflammation in a murine model of ASD induced by prenatal exposure to valproic acid (VPA). Pregnant BALB/c females were treated subcutaneously with 600mg/kg VPA or phosphate buffered saline on gestational day 11. Offspring were housed with their mother until weaning on postnatal day 21 (P21). All pups were exposed to a social behaviour test on P28. Inflammatory correlates and activity of the serotonergic system were measured in brain and intestinal tissue.
Here we demonstrate, in addition to reduced social behaviour and increased expression of neuroinflammatory markers in the brain, that VPA in utero- exposed male offspring showed epithelial cell loss and neutrophil infiltration in the intestinal tract. Furthermore, reduced levels of serotonin were not only observed the prefrontal cortex and amygdala of VPA in utero- exposed males, but also in the small intestine.
Overall, we demonstrate that gender-specific inflammatory conditions are present in the small intestines of VPA in utero- exposed mice and are accompanied by a disturbed serotonergic system in the brain as well as in the intestinal tract.