Behavioral alterations in rats prenatally exposed to valproic acid: animal model of autism

Neuropsychopharmacology. 2005 Jan;30(1):80-9. doi: 10.1038/sj.npp.1300518.


Autism is a severe behavioral disorder characterized by pervasive impairments in social interactions, deficits in verbal and nonverbal communication, and stereotyped, repetitive patterns of behaviors and interests. Recently, a new rodent model of autism was created by exposure of rat fetuses to valproic acid (VPA) on the 12.5th day of gestation (VPA rats). The model has striking anatomical, pathological, and etiological similarities to human data; however, it has not been characterized behaviorally. In order to determine if VPA rats present behavioral aberrations observed in autism, their behavior was extensively evaluated in a battery of tests. The results of the present experiments demonstrate that VPA rats exhibit: (1) lower sensitivity to pain and higher sensitivity to nonpainful stimuli, (2) diminished acoustic prepulse inhibition, (3) locomotor and repetitive/stereotypic-like hyperactivity combined with lower exploratory activity, and (4) decreased number of social behaviors and increased latency to social behaviors. In addition, VPA rats showed delayed maturation, lower body weight, delayed motor development, and attenuated integration of a coordinated series of reflexes, delayed nest-seeking response mediated by olfactory system, and normal negative geotaxis. Interestingly, all behavioral aberrations described in this paper appear before puberty, which could distinguish the VPA rat model of autism from other animal models of neurodevelopmental disorders, especially rodent models of schizophrenia. Our results bring further support to validity of the proposed VPA animal model of autism, suggesting similarities between the observed pattern of behavioral alterations in VPA rats and features of disturbed behavior in autistic patients.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Animals
  • Anticonvulsants / toxicity*
  • Attention / drug effects
  • Autistic Disorder / chemically induced*
  • Autistic Disorder / psychology*
  • Behavior, Animal / drug effects*
  • Discrimination, Psychological / drug effects
  • Endorphins / physiology
  • Exploratory Behavior / drug effects
  • Female
  • Motor Activity / drug effects
  • Nociceptors / drug effects
  • Pain Measurement / drug effects
  • Postural Balance / drug effects
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Reflex, Startle / drug effects
  • Smell / drug effects
  • Stereotyped Behavior / drug effects
  • Touch
  • Valproic Acid / toxicity*
  • Weight Gain / drug effects


  • Anticonvulsants
  • Endorphins
  • Valproic Acid