Environmental challenges during the prenatal period can result in behavioral abnormalities and cognitive deficits that appear later in life such as autism. Prenatal exposure to valproic acid, ethanol, thalidomide and misoprostol has been shown to be associated with an increased incidence of autism. In addition, rodents exposed in utero to some of these drugs show autism-like abnormalities, including brain changes and lifelong behavior dysfunction. Our aim is to summarize current understanding of the relationship between in utero exposure to these drugs and autism in humans and in autism-like animal model phenotypes. It also highlights the importance of these models to understanding the neurobiology of autism, particularly in the identification of susceptibility genes. These drugs are able to modulate the expression of many genes involved in processes such as proliferation, apoptosis, neuronal differentiation and migration, synaptogenesis and synaptic activity. It seems essential to focus research on genes expressed during early neurodevelopment which may be the target of mutations or affected by drugs such as those included in this review.
Copyright © 2011. Published by Elsevier Ltd.