Gastrointestinal observations in the valproate mouse model of autism

bowelThe recent revelation that offspring of a maternal immune activated (MIA) mouse model of autism, or at least mouse presentation of behaviours judged similar to those observed in cases of autism, might also present with gastrointestinal effects has certainly caught the imagination. Describing how the so-called leaky gut might be associated with those trillions of bacterial passengers that call the animal bowel home, such research has potentially far-reaching consequences for autism research. Assuming that is, that the research in question is first replicated and subsequently crosses from mouse to humans.

It is with these gastrointestinal effects in mind, that the paper by de Theije and colleagues* follows a similar theme. Reliant on another mouse model of autism linked to gestational exposure to the antiepileptic agent valproic acid (valproate), authors set about exploring the behavioural and neuroinflammatory effects to offspring who were exposed in-utero. Alongside reporting on such effects, authors also observed various gastrointestinal issues to be present, potentially suggestive of intestinal inflammation coincidental to exposure.

These effects seemed to affect male offspring to a greater extent and, as authors showed, seemed to correlate with dysfunction of the serotonergic system in the brain and gut (also known as the second brain in some quarters).

As per the MIA mouse findings and gut permeability, science still has some way to go in showing how such findings translate from mouse to humans. That being said, the paper by Theije and colleagues demonstrates again how the underlying genetics and biochemistry of autism, some types of autism, may very well exceed mere confinement to brain function to include other organs. Whether also amelioration of gastrointestinal issues may also impact on presented behaviour is another important area for future investigations in this area.

* de Theije CGM. et al. Intestinal inflammation in a murine model of autism spectrum disorders. Brain Behav Immun. 2013 Dec 6. pii: S0889-1591(13)00589-8.

Further commentary on this study can be found at:

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About Paul Whiteley Ph.D.

Researcher based in North East England. An academic background in psychology with a special interest in developmental psychology focused specifically on the autism spectrum and related conditions. Postgraduate degrees based on research examining the safety and efficacy of a gluten- and casein-free (GFCF) diet applied to autism and the potential importance of various comorbidity to the health and wellbeing of those on the autism spectrum, with a continuing research interest in these areas. Keen blogger and amateur science writer (but no formal qualifications in these areas). Science is based on probability.