Dual Profile of Environmental Enrichment and Autistic-Like Behaviors in the Maternal Separated Model in Rats

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BACKGROUND: Environmental Enrichment (EE) has been suggested as a possible therapeutic intervention for neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism. Although the benefits of this therapeutic method have been reported in some animal models and human studies, the unknown pathophysiology of autism as well as number of conflicting results, urge for further examination of the therapeutic potential of EE in autism. Therefore, the aim of this study was to examine the effects of environmental enrichment on autism-related behaviors which were induced in the maternal separation (MS) animal model.

MATERIAL AND METHODS: Maternally separated (post-natal day (PND) 1-14, 3h/day) and control male rats were at weaning (PND21) age equally divided into rats housed in enriched environment and normal environment. At adolescence (PND42-50), the four groups were behaviorally tested for direct social interaction, sociability, repetitive behaviors, anxiety behavior, and locomotion. Following completion of the behavioral tests, the blood and brain tissue samples were harvested in order to assess plasma level of brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and structural plasticity of brain using ELISA and stereological methods respectively.

RESULTS: We found that environmental enrichment reduced repetitive behaviors but failed to improve the impaired sociability and anxiety behaviors which were induced by maternal separation. Indeed, EE exacerbated anxiety and social behaviors deficits in association with increased plasma BDNF level, larger volume of the hippocampus and infra-limbic region and higher number of neurons in the infra-limbic area (p < 0.05). Conclusion: We conclude that environmental enrichment has a significant improvement effect on the repetitive behavior as one of the core autistic-like behaviors induced by maternal separation but has negative effect on the anxiety and social behaviors which might have been modulated by BDNF.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1173
JournalInternational Journal of Molecular Sciences
Volume22
Issue3
Number of pages18
ISSN1661-6596
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2021

    Research areas

  • Animal model of autism, BDNF, Brain plasticity, Environmental enrichment, Neonatal isolation

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