Project description:Prenatal exposure to valproic acid (VPA), an established antiepileptic drug, has been reported to impair postnatal cognitive function in children born to VPA-treated epileptic mothers. However, how these defects arise and how they can be overcome remain unknown. Using mice, we found that comparable postnatal cognitive functional impairment is very likely correlated to the untimely enhancement of embryonic neurogenesis, which led to depletion of the neural precursor cell pool and consequently a decreased level of adult neurogenesis in the hippocampus. Moreover, hippocampal neurons in the offspring of VPA-treated mice showed abnormal morphology and activity. Surprisingly, these impairments could be ameliorated by voluntary running. Our study suggests that although prenatal exposure to antiepileptic drugs such as VPA may have detrimental effects that persist until adulthood, these effects may be offset by a simple physical activity such as running.
Project description:Environmental risk factors contribute to autism spectrum disorders (ASD) etiology. In particular, prenatal exposure to the highly teratogenic anticonvulsant valproic acid (VPA) significantly increases ASD prevalence. Although significant discoveries on the embryopathology of VPA have been reported, its effects on the ability to form enduring social attachment-characteristic of ASD but uncommonly displayed by rats and mice-remains unknown. We aimed to examine the effects of prenatal VPA exposure in the social, monogamous prairie voles (Microtus ochrogaster). Compared to prenatal vehicle-exposed controls, prenatal VPA-exposed prairie voles had lower body weight throughout postnatal development, engaged in fewer social affiliative behaviors in a familial context, exhibited less social interactions with novel conspecifics, and showed enhanced anxiety-like behavior. Along these behavioral deficits, prenatal VPA exposure downregulated prefrontal cortex vasopressin receptor (V1aR) and methyl CpG-binding protein 2 (MeCP2) mRNA expression, but did not alter spine density in adults. Remarkably, adult social bonding behaviors, such as partner preference formation and selective aggression, were not disrupted by prenatal VPA exposure. Collectively, these studies suggest that, in this animal model, VPA alters only certain behavioral domains such as sex-naive anxiety and affiliative behaviors, but does not alter other domains such as social bonding with opposite sex individuals.
Project description:Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental condition whose primary features include social communication and interaction impairments with restricted or repetitive motor movements. No approved treatment for the core symptoms is available and considerable research efforts aim at identifying effective therapeutic strategies. Emerging evidence suggests that altered endocannabinoid signaling and immune dysfunction might contribute to ASD pathogenesis. In this scenario, phytocannabinoids could hold great pharmacological potential due to their combined capacities to act either directly or indirectly on components of the endocannabinoid system and to modulate immune functions. Among all plant-cannabinoids, the phytocannabinoid cannabidivarin (CBDV) was recently shown to reduce motor impairments and cognitive deficits in animal models of Rett syndrome, a condition showing some degree of overlap with autism, raising the possibility that CBDV might have therapeutic potential in ASD. Here, we investigated the ability of CBDV treatment to reverse or prevent ASD-like behaviors in male rats prenatally exposed to valproic acid (VPA; 500 mg/kg i.p.; gestation day 12.5). The offspring received CBDV according to two different protocols: symptomatic (0.2/2/20/100 mg/kg i.p.; postnatal days 34-58) and preventative (2/20 mg/kg i.p.; postnatal days 19-32). The major efficacy of CBDV was observed at the dose of 20 mg/kg for both treatment schedules. CBDV in symptomatic rats recovered social impairments, social novelty preference, short-term memory deficits, repetitive behaviors and hyperlocomotion whereas preventative treatment reduced sociability and social novelty deficits, short-term memory impairments and hyperlocomotion, without affecting stereotypies. As dysregulations in the endocannabinoid system and neuroinflammatory markers contribute to the development of some ASD phenotypes in the VPA model, neurochemical studies were performed after symptomatic treatment to investigate possible CBDV's effects on the endocannabinoid system, inflammatory markers and microglia activation in the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex. Prenatal VPA exposure increased CB1 receptor, FAAH and MAGL levels, enhanced GFAP, CD11b, and TNF? levels and triggered microglia activation restricted to the hippocampus. All these alterations were restored after CBDV treatment. These data provide preclinical evidence in support of the ability of CBDV to ameliorate behavioral abnormalities resembling core and associated symptoms of ASD. At the neurochemical level, symptomatic CBDV restores hippocampal endocannabinoid signaling and neuroinflammation induced by prenatal VPA exposure.
Project description:BACKGROUND AND PURPOSE:Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is more commonly diagnosed in males than in females. Prenatal exposure to the antiepileptic drug valproic acid (VPA) is an environmental risk factor of ASD. Male rats prenatally exposed to VPA show socio-emotional autistic-like dysfunctions that have been related to changes in the activity of the endocannabinoid anandamide. Here, we have investigated if prenatal VPA induced sex-specific autistic endophenotypes involving anandamide signalling. EXPERIMENTAL APPROACH:We studied sex-specific differences in the ASD-like socio-emotional, cognitive and repetitive symptoms displayed during development of Wistar rats of both sexes, prenatally exposed to VPA. The involvement of anandamide was followed by Western blotting of cannabinoid CB1 receptors and by inhibiting its metabolism. KEY RESULTS:Female rats were less vulnerable to the deleterious effects of prenatal VPA exposure on social communication, emotional reactivity and cognitive performance than male rats. Conversely, as observed in male rats, prenatal VPA exposure induced selective deficits in social play behaviour and stereotypies in the female rat offspring. At the neurochemical level, prenatal VPA exposure altered phosphorylation of CB1 receptors in a sex-specific, age-specific and tissue-specific manner. Enhancing anandamide signalling through inhibition of its degradation reversed the behavioural deficits displayed by VPA-exposed animals of both sexes. CONCLUSIONS AND IMPLICATIONS:These findings highlight sexually dimorphic consequences of prenatal VPA exposure that may be related to sex-specific effects of VPA on endocannabinoid neurotransmission in the course of development and introduce a new therapeutic target for reversing autistic-like symptoms in both sexes.
Project description:Prenatal exposure to moderate doses of valproic acid (VPA) produces brainstem abnormalities, while higher doses of this teratogen elicit social deficits in the rat. In this pilot study, we examined effects of prenatal exposure to a moderate dose of VPA on behavior and on transcriptomic expression in three brain regions that mediate social behavior. Pregnant Long Evans rats were injected with 350 mg/kg VPA or saline on gestational day 13. A modified social interaction test was used to assess social behavior and social preference/avoidance during early and late adolescence and in adulthood. VPA-exposed animals demonstrated more social investigation and play fighting than control animals. Social investigation, play fighting, and contact behavior also differed as a function of age; the frequency of these behaviors increased in late adolescence. Social preference and locomotor activity under social circumstances were unaffected by treatment or age. Thus, a moderate prenatal dose of VPA produces behavioral alterations that are substantially different from the outcomes that occur following exposure to a higher dose. At adulthood, VPA-exposed subjects exhibited transcriptomic abnormalities in three brain regions: anterior amygdala, cerebellar vermis, and orbitofrontal cortex. A common feature among the proteins encoded by the dysregulated genes was their ability to be modulated by acetylation. Analysis of the expression of individual exons also revealed that genes involved in post-translational modification and epigenetic regulation had particular isoforms that were ubiquitously dysregulated across brain regions. The vulnerability of these genes to the epigenetic effects of VPA may highlight potential mechanisms by which prenatal VPA exposure alters the development of social behavior.
Project description:Prenatal exposure to environmental insults can increase the risk of developing neurodevelopmental disorders. Administration of the antiepileptic drug valproic acid (VPA) during pregnancy is tightly associated with a high risk of neurological disorders in offspring. However, the lack of an ideal human model hinders our comprehensive understanding of the impact of VPA exposure on fetal brain development, especially in early gestation. Herein, we present the first report indicating the effects of VPA on brain development at early stages using engineered cortical organoids from human induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPSCs). Cortical organoids were generated on micropillar arrays in a controlled manner, recapitulating the critical features of human brain development during early gestation. With VPA exposure, cortical organoids exhibited neurodevelopmental dysfunction characterized by increased neuron progenitors, inhibited neuronal differentiation and altered forebrain regionalization. Transcriptome analysis showed new markedly altered genes (e.g., KLHL1, LHX9, and MGARP) and a large number of differential expression genes (DEGs), some of which are related to autism. In particular, comparison of transcriptome data via GSEA and correlation analysis revealed the high similarity between VPA-exposed organoids with the postmortem ASD brain and autism patient-derived organoids, implying the high risk of autism with prenatal VPA exposure, even in early gestation. These new findings facilitate a better understanding of the cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying postnatal brain disorders (such as autism) with prenatal VPA exposure. This established cortical organoid-on-a-chip platform is valuable for probing neurodevelopmental disorders under environmental exposure and can be extended to applications in the study of diseases and drug testing.
Project description:This paper is one of the first to examine the associations between prenatal sunshine exposure and birth outcomes, specifically the incidence of low birth weight (LBW) and small for gestational age (SGA), based on a nationally representative birth record dataset in China. During the sample period in the 1990s, migration was limited in rural China, allowing us to address the identification challenges, like residential sorting and avoidance behaviors. We found a nonlinear relationship between the length of sunlight and birth outcomes. In particular, prenatal exposure to increasing sunshine was associated with a reduction in the incidence of LBW and SGA, especially in the second trimester during pregnancy. This finding was consistent with the clinical evidence suggesting positive effects of sunshine on birth outcomes via obtaining vitamin D or relieving maternal stress.
Project description:Valproic acid (VPA) is a powerful teratogen causing birth defects in humans, including autism spectrum disorder (ASD), if exposure occurs during the first trimester of embryogenesis. Learning and memory alterations are common symptoms of ASD, but underlying molecular and synaptic alterations remain unknown. We therefore studied plasticity-related mechanisms in the neocortex of 2-week-old rats prenatally exposed to VPA and tested for changes in glutamate-mediated transmission and plasticity in the neocortex. We found a selective overexpression of NR2A and NR2B subunits of NMDA receptors, as well as the commonly linked kinase calcium/calmodulin-dependent protein kinase II. Synaptic plasticity experiments between pairs of pyramidal neurons revealed an augmented postsynaptic form of long-term potentiation. These results indicate that VPA significantly enhances NMDA receptor-mediated transmission and causes increased plasticity in the neocortex. Enhanced plasticity introduces a surprising perspective to the potential molecular and synaptic mechanisms involved in children prenatally exposed to VPA.
Project description:Thyroid hormone is critical for central nervous system development. Fetal hypothyroidism leads to reduced cognitive performance in offspring as well as other effects on neural development in both humans and experimental animals. The nature of these impairments suggests that thyroid hormone may exert its effects via dysregulation of the neurotrophin brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which is critical to normal development of the central nervous system and has been implicated in neurodevelopmental disorders. The only evidence of BDNF dysregulation in early development, however, comes from experimental models in which severe prenatal hypothyroidism occurred. By contrast, milder prenatal hypothyroidism has been shown to alter BDNF levels and BDNF-dependent functions only much later in life. We hypothesized that mild experimental prenatal hypothyroidism might lead to dysregulation of BDNF in the early postnatal period. BDNF levels were measured by ELISA at 3 or 7 d after birth in different regions of the brains of rats exposed to propylthiouracil (PTU) in the drinking water. The dose of PTU that was used induced mild maternal thyroid hormone insufficiency. Pups, but not the parents, exhibited alterations in tissue BDNF levels. Hippocampal BDNF levels were reduced at both d 3 and 7, but no significant reductions were observed in either the cerebellum or brain stem. Unexpectedly, more males than females were born to PTU-treated dams, suggesting an effect of PTU on sex determination. These results support the hypothesis that reduced hippocampal BDNF levels during early development may contribute to the adverse neurodevelopmental effects of mild thyroid hormone insufficiency during pregnancy.
Project description:Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are a heterogeneous group of neurodevelopmental conditions categorized as synaptopathies. Environmental risk factors contribute to ASD aetiology. In particular, prenatal exposure to the anti-epileptic drug valproic acid (VPA) may increase the risk of autism. In the present study, we investigated the effect of prenatal exposure to VPA on the synaptic morphology and expression of key synaptic proteins in the hippocampus and cerebral cortex of young-adult male offspring. To characterize the VPA-induced autism model, behavioural outcomes, microglia-related neuroinflammation, and oxidative stress were analysed. Our data showed that prenatal exposure to VPA impaired communication in neonatal rats, reduced their exploratory activity, and led to anxiety-like and repetitive behaviours in the young-adult animals. VPA-induced pathological alterations in the ultrastructures of synapses accompanied by deregulation of key pre- and postsynaptic structural and functional proteins. Moreover, VPA exposure altered the redox status and expression of proinflammatory genes in a brain region-specific manner. The disruption of synaptic structure and plasticity may be the primary insult responsible for autism-related behaviour in the offspring. The vulnerability of specific synaptic proteins to the epigenetic effects of VPA may highlight the potential mechanisms by which prenatal VPA exposure generates behavioural changes.