The Effect of Prenatal Valproate Exposure in Serotonin Transporter Knockout Rats On Anxiety and Cognition: A Gene*Environment Interaction Model of Autism Spectrum Disorder
Autism Spectrum Disorder is a complex neurodevelopmental disorder which is often associated with increased anxiety and deficits in cognitive ability. The present research investigated a potential gene*environment interaction between two factors previously implicated in ASD in a rat model; prenatal exposure to valproate (VPA) and genetic reduction of the serotonin transporter (SERT). Wildtype and heterozygous SERT knockout rats prenatally exposed to VPA or saline on gestational day12.5 (G12.5) were assessed on measures of anxiety: elevated plus-maze and novelty suppressed-feeding and cognitive ability: prepulse inhibition and latent inhibition. A significant main effect was found for VPA exposure in all paradigms, showing increased anxiety-typical behaviour and abnormal cognitive ability. However, no significant effect of genotype or interaction was observed. Results from the present study do not confirm gene*environment interaction between prenatal VPA and heterozygous SERT knockout but this may be due to several factors that are discussed within the thesis. In any case, this study represents a starting point for further studies investigating other combinations of genetic and environmental factors as models of ASD pathogenesis.