Anatomy and Cell Biology Publications
Characterizing maternal isolation-induced ultrasonic vocalizations in a gene-environment interaction rat model for autism.
Genes, Brain, and Behavior
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Deficits in social communication and language development belong to the earliest diagnostic criteria of autism spectrum disorders. Of the many risk factors for autism spectrum disorder, the contactin-associated protein-like 2 gene, CNTNAP2, is thought to be important for language development. The present study used a rat model to investigate the potential compounding effects of autism spectrum disorder risk gene mutation and environmental challenges, including breeding conditions or maternal immune activation during pregnancy, on early vocal communication in the offspring. Maternal isolation-induced ultrasonic vocalizations from Cntnap2 wildtype and knockout rats at selected postnatal days were analyzed for their acoustic, temporal and syntax characteristics. Cntnap2 knockout pups from heterozygous breeding showed normal numbers and largely similar temporal structures of ultrasonic vocalizations to wildtype controls, whereas both parameters were affected in homozygously bred knockouts. Homozygous breeding further exacerbated altered pitch and transitioning between call types found in Cntnap2 knockout pups from heterozygous breeding. In contrast, the effect of maternal immune activation on the offspring's vocal communication was confined to call type syntax, but left ultrasonic vocalization acoustic and temporal organization intact. Our results support the "double-hit hypothesis" of autism spectrum disorder risk gene-environment interactions and emphasize that complex features of vocal communication are a useful tool for identifying early autistic-like features in rodent models.
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