Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Master of Science


Anatomy and Cell Biology


Dr. Susanne Schmid


Autistic individuals display sensory filtering impairments often correlated with cognitive dysfunction. Studies have shown that both these functions can be modulated by big potassium (BK) channels. Importantly, a subset of individuals with autism have shown BK channel mutations. We assessed sensory filtering and cognitive function through behavioural tests in a valproic acid (VPA) rat model of autism. We hypothesize that the model will display sensory filtering and cognitive impairments and that activation of BK channels may rescue observed cognitive deficits. Results revealed impairments in sensory filtering, hyper-locomotive activity and increased anxiety in VPA animals during adolescence. Although no significant impairments in cognitive function were observed, BK channel modulators were shown to facilitate normal cognitive function. We conclude that the VPA model is valid for displaying sensory filtering impairments associated with autism. However, no cognitive deficits were identified. Our results also provided further evidence for the importance of BK channels in cognition.