Animal models of autism: an epigenetic and environmental viewpoint.
Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder of social behavior, which is more common in males than in females. The causes of autism are unknown; there is evidence for a substantial genetic component, but it is likely that a combination of genetic, environmental and epigenetic factors contribute to its complex pathogenesis.
Rodent models that mimic the behavioral deficits of autism can be useful tools for dissecting both the etiology and molecular mechanisms.
This review discusses animal models of autism generated by prenatal or neonatal environmental challenges, including virus infection and exposure to valproic acid (VPA) or stress.
Studies of viral infection models suggest that interleukin-6 can influence fetal development and programming.
Prenatal exposure to the histone deacetylase inhibitor VPA has been linked to autism in children, and male VPA-exposed rats exhibit a spectrum of autistic-like behaviors.
The experience of prenatal stress produces male-specific behavioral abnormalities in rats. These effects may be mediated by epigenetic modifications such as DNA methylation and histone acetylation resulting in alterations to the transcriptome.