Observation of fetal brain in a rat valproate-induced autism model: a developmental neurotoxicity study

Int J Dev Neurosci. 2009 Jun;27(4):399-405. doi: 10.1016/j.ijdevneu.2009.01.006. Epub 2009 Jan 29.


Prenatal exposure to chemicals is well known to induce developmental abnormalities in the central nervous system of children. Developmental neurotoxicity (DNT) tests are important to identify neurotoxic agents and prevent neurodevelopmental disorders. We have investigated DNT, focusing on the fetal brain shortly after chemical exposure. To demonstrate a usefulness of a study focusing on the fetal brain in DNT tests, we assessed the fetal brain in a rat valproate-induced autism model. Rats were treated with sodium valproate (VPA, 800 mg/kg) orally on gestational day (GD) 9 or 11 (VPA9 or VPA11), and the fetal brains were examined on GD16 using immunohistochemistry for serotonin (5-HT), tyrosine hydroxylase (TH), and TuJ1 (neuron specific class III beta-tubulin). Hypoplasia of the cortical plate was induced in both VPA9 and VPA11 groups. Abnormal migration of TH-positive and 5-HT neurons, possibly due to the appearance of an abnormally running nerve tract in the pons, was observed only in the VPA11 group. In addition, when we compared the incidence of these abnormalities between pregnant rats mated in our own animal facility (in-house group), and rats purchased pregnant (supplier group), the supplier group was much more sensitive, especially to the pons abnormality. Shipping stress may affect the reproducibility of VPA-induced DNT. The present results demonstrate that examination of the GD16 fetal brain was useful for detecting and characterizing abnormal development of the brain after VPA exposure. Further discussion was made with reference to the findings in children with autism.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anticonvulsants / pharmacology*
  • Autistic Disorder* / chemically induced
  • Autistic Disorder* / physiopathology
  • Brain* / anatomy & histology
  • Brain* / drug effects
  • Brain* / pathology
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Female
  • Fetus* / drug effects
  • Fetus* / physiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Neurotoxicity Syndromes / etiology
  • Neurotoxicity Syndromes / physiopathology
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / chemically induced
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Valproic Acid / pharmacology*


  • Anticonvulsants
  • Valproic Acid