Reduced social interaction, behavioural flexibility and BDNF signalling in the BTBR T+ tf/J strain, a mouse model of autism

Behav Brain Res. 2013 Aug 15;251:35-40. doi: 10.1016/j.bbr.2012.12.028. Epub 2012 Dec 25.


Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by social and communication impairments and repetitive behaviours. The inbred BTBR T+ tf/J (BTBR) strain, a putative mouse model of autism, exhibits lower social interactions, higher repetitive self-grooming levels and unusual pattern of vocalizations as compared to C57BL/6J strain. First aim of the present study was to evaluate at adolescence (postnatal days 30-35) male BTBR and C57BL/6J performances in two different tasks involving either investigation of social cues (same strain partners) or non social ones (inanimate objects). In the social interaction test, BTBR mice showed a reduction of investigation of the social partner, due to a selective reduction of head sniffing, associated with a decrease in ultrasonic vocalizations. By contrast, no strain differences were detected in object investigations. Second aim of the study was to evaluate adult male BTBR and C57BL/6J performances in a fear conditioning task. Strain differences were evident during contextual retest: these strain differences primarily suggested a lack of behavioural flexibility in BTBR mice (i.e., realizing the occurrence of changes in the experimental paradigm). Subsequent electrophysiological analysis in hippocampal slices from adult BTBR and C57BL/6J mice revealed a significant reduction of Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF)-induced potentiation of synaptic transmission in BTBR mice. BDNF and tyrosine kinase B (TrkB) protein levels measured in the hippocampal region were also lower in BTBR as compared to C57BL/6J mice. These data confirm the presence of low levels of direct interaction with social stimuli in BTBR mice at adolescence, in the absence of any strain difference as for investigation of physical objects. At adulthood in BTBR mice clear signs of behavioural inflexibility were evident whereas both biochemical and electrophysiological data point to decreased BDNF signalling (likely due to a reduction in TrkB levels) in the hippocampus of this mouse strain.

Keywords: 5HTT; ACSF; ASD; B6; BDNF-induced potentiation; BTBR; BTBR T+tf/J; C57BL6/j; Object exploration; PND; TrkB; Ultrasonic vocalizations; artificial cerebrospinal fluid; autism spectrum disorders; postnatal day; serotonin transporter; trkB; tyrosine receptor kinase B.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Autistic Disorder / metabolism
  • Autistic Disorder / psychology*
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor / metabolism*
  • Conditioning, Psychological / physiology
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Fear / psychology
  • Grooming / physiology
  • Hippocampus / metabolism
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred Strains
  • Receptor, trkB / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction / physiology*
  • Social Behavior*
  • Vocalization, Animal / physiology*


  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor
  • Receptor, trkB