Biological and Pharmaceutical Bulletin
Online ISSN : 1347-5215
Print ISSN : 0918-6158
ISSN-L : 0918-6158
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Autism Spectrum Disorder Model Mice Induced by Prenatal Exposure to Valproic Acid Exhibit Enhanced Empathy-Like Behavior via Oxytocinergic Signaling
Kaito TakayamaShota ToboriChihiro AndohMasashi KakaeMasako HagiwaraKazuki Nagayasu Hisashi ShirakawaYukio AgoShuji Kaneko
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2022 Volume 45 Issue 8 Pages 1124-1132


Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by core symptoms, including impairments in social behavior and repetitive interests. Recent studies have revealed that individuals with ASD also display decreased empathy, ultimately leading to difficulties in social relationships; however, another report indicated that individuals with ASD have enhanced emotional empathy. Nonetheless, the neurobiological mechanisms underlying altered empathy in individuals with ASD remain unclear. In this study, we assessed empathy-like behaviors in valproic acid (VPA)-treated mice—a mouse model of ASD with observational fear learning. We then investigated the brain regions and signaling systems responsible for the altered empathy-like behaviors in VPA-treated mice. As a result, mice prenatally exposed to VPA displayed increased empathy-like behaviors, which were not attributed to altered sensitivity to auditory stimuli or enhanced memory for pain-related contexts. Immunohistochemical analysis revealed that the number of c-Fos positive oxytocinergic neurons in the paraventricular nucleus of the hypothalamus (PVN) was significantly higher in VPA-treated mice after observational fear learning. Finally, we found that pretreatment with L-368899, an antagonist of the oxytocin receptor, repressed the empathetic behavior in VPA-treated mice. These results suggest that VPA-treated ASD model animals showed increased emotional empathy-like behaviors through the hyperactivation of PVN oxytocinergic neurons for the first time. Further investigation of this hyperactivity will help to identify extrinsic stimuli and the condition which are capable of activation of PVN oxytocinergic neurons and to identify novel approach to enhance oxytocin signaling, which ultimately pave the way to development of novel therapy for ASD.

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© 2022 The Pharmaceutical Society of Japan
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