Oxytocin attenuates deficits in social interaction but not recognition memory in a prenatal valproic acid-induced mouse model of autism

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Recent studies have reported that oxytocin ameliorates behavioral abnormalities in both animal models and individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). However, the mechanisms underlying the ameliorating effects of oxytocin remain unclear. In this study, we examined the effects of intranasal oxytocin on impairments in social interaction and recognition memory in an ASD mouse model in which animals are prenatally exposed to valproic acid (VPA). We found that a single intranasal administration of oxytocin restored social interaction deficits for up to 2 h in mice prenatally exposed to VPA, but there was no effect on recognition memory impairments. Additionally, administration of oxytocin across 2 weeks improved prenatal VPA-induced social interaction deficits for at least 24 h. In contrast, there were no effects on the time spent sniffing in control mice. Immunohistochemical analysis revealed that intranasal administration of oxytocin increased c-Fos expression in the paraventricular nuclei (PVN), prefrontal cortex, and somatosensory cortex, but not the hippocampal CA1 and CA3 regions of VPA-exposed mice, suggesting the former regions may underlie the effects of oxytocin. These findings suggest that oxytocin attenuates social interaction deficits through the activation of higher cortical areas and the PVN in an ASD mouse model.

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