An Inflexible Mouse – BTBR and BDNF – and the Gut.

Reduced social interaction, behavioural flexibility and BDNF signalling in the BTBR T+tf/J strain, a mouse model of autism.

Department of Cell Biology and Neuroscience, Istituto Superiore di Sanità, Viale Regina Elena, 299 I-00161 Rome, Italy.


Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by social and communication impairments and repetitive behaviours.

The inbred BTBR T+tf/J (BTBR) strain, a putative mouse model of autism, exhibits lower social interactions, higher repetitive self-grooming levels and unusual pattern of vocalizations as compared to C57BL/6J strain.

First aim of the present study was to evaluate at adolescence (postnatal days 30-35) male BTBR and C57BL/6J performances in two different tasks involving either investigation of social cues (same strain partners) or non social ones (inanimate objects).

In the social interaction test, BTBR mice showed a reduction of investigation of the social partner, due to a selective reduction of head sniffing, associated with a decrease in ultrasonic vocalizations. By contrast, no strain differences were detected in object investigations.

Second aim of the study was to evaluate adult male BTBR and C57BL/6J performances in a fear conditioning task. Strain differences were evident during contextual retest: these strain differences primarily suggested a lack of behavioural flexibility in BTBR mice (i.e. realizing the occurrence of changes in the experimental paradigm).

Subsequent electrophysiological analysis in hippocampal slices from adult BTBR and C57BL/6J mice revealed a significant reduction of Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF)-induced potentiation of synaptic transmission in BTBR mice. BDNF and tyrosine kinase B (TrkB) protein levels measured in the hippocampal region were also lower in BTBR as compared to C57BL/6J mice.

These data confirm the presence of low levels of direct interaction with social stimuli in BTBR mice at adolescence, in the absence of any strain difference as for investigation of physical objects. At adulthood in BTBR mice clear signs of behavioural inflexibility were evident whereas both biochemical and electrophysiological data point to decreased BDNF signalling (likely due to a reduction in TrkB levels) in the hippocampus of this mouse strain.


Further Reading

Neonatal levels of neurotrophic factors and risk of autism spectrum disorders.

Section for Epidemiology, HEALTH, Aarhus University, Aarhus, Denmark; Department of Clinical Biochemistry and Immunology, Statens Serum Institute, Copenhagen, Denmark; Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, Rostock University Hospital, University of Rostock, Rostock, Germany.



To examine levels of 3 neurotrophic factors (NTFs): Brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), Neurotrophin-4 (NT-4), and transforming growth factor-β (TGF-β) in dried blood spot samples of neonates diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) later in life and frequency-matched controls.


Biologic samples were retrieved from the Danish Newborn Screening Biobank. NTFs for 414 ASD cases and 820 controls were measured using Luminex technology. Associations were analyzed with continuous measures (Tobit regression) as well as dichotomized at the lower and upper 10th percentiles cutoff points derived from the controls’ distributions (logistic regression).


ASD cases were more likely to have BDNF levels falling in the lower 10th percentile (odds ratios [OR], 1.53 [95% confidence intervals (CI), 1.04-2.24], P-value = 0.03).

Similar pattern was seen for TGF-β in females with ASD (OR, 2.36 [95% CI, 1.05-5.33], P-value = 0.04).

For NT-4, however, ASD cases diagnosed with ICD-10 only were less likely to have levels in upper 10th percentile compared with controls (OR, 0.22 [95% CI, 0.05-0.98], P-value = 0.05).


Results cautiously indicate decreased NTFs levels during neonatal period in ASD. This may contribute to the pathophysiology of ASD through impairments of neuroplasticity. Further research is required to confirm our results and to examine the potential therapeutic effects of NTFs in ASD.


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This entry was posted in Autism, Environment, Epigenetics, Genetics, Gut, Immune System, Inflammation, Mice, Neurology, Physiology, Treatment and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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