Autism-related behaviors in the cyclooxygenase-2-deficient mouse model

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Abstract

Prostaglandin E2 (PGE2) is an endogenous lipid molecule involved in normal brain development. Cyclooxygenase-2 (COX2) is the main regulator of PGE2 synthesis. Emerging clinical and molecular research provides compelling evidence that abnormal COX2/PGE2 signaling is associated with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). We previously found that COX2 knockout mice had dysregulated expression of many ASD genes belonging to important biological pathways for neurodevelopment. The present study is the first to show the connection between irregular COX2/PGE2 signaling and autism-related behaviors in male and female COX2-deficient knockin, (COX)-2−, mice at young (4-6 weeks) or adult (8-11 weeks) ages. Autism-related behaviors were prominent in male (COX)-2− mice for most behavioral tests. In the open field test, (COX)-2− mice traveled more than controls and adult male (COX)-2− mice spent less time in the center indicating elevated hyperactive and anxiety-linked behaviors. (COX)-2− mice also buried more marbles, with males burying more than females, suggesting increased anxiety and repetitive behaviors. Young male (COX)-2− mice fell more frequently in the inverted screen test revealing motor deficits. The three-chamber sociability test found that adult female (COX)-2− mice spent less time in the novel mouse chamber indicative of social abnormalities. In addition, male (COX)-2− mice showed altered expression of several autism-linked genes: Wnt2, Glo1, Grm5 and Mmp9. Overall, our findings offer new insight into the involvement of disrupted COX2/PGE2 signaling in ASD pathology with age-related differences and greater impact on males. We propose that (COX)-2− mice might serve as a novel model system to study specific types of autism.

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