Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental pathology clinically characterized by persistent deficits in social communication and social interactions associated with restricted repetitive patterns of behavior, interests or activity. ASD is actually one of the most common childhood neurological disorders. Despite a genetic origin, environmental factors are determinant in the etiology of autism. Based on observations that exposure to valproic acid (VPA) during pregnancy increases the risk of autism in children, in utero exposure of rodents to VPA was performed to produce animal models of autism. VPA-treated rodents exhibit social interaction deficits and repetitive behaviors, and display similar brain structure abnormalities to those observed in human cases of ASD. These rodent VPA models support the hypothesis that an imbalance between excitation and inhibition and/or a hyperconnectivity-hyperplasticity in those brain regions implicated in social interactions, learning and perception is at the root of ASD, and thus provide valuable tools for screening novel therapeutics.
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