Prenatal domoic acid exposure disrupts mouse pro-social behavior and functional connectivity MRI

Behav Brain Res. 2016 Jul 15;308:14-23. doi: 10.1016/j.bbr.2016.03.039. Epub 2016 Apr 2.


Domoic acid (DA) is a toxin produced by marine algae and known primarily for its role in isolated outbreaks of Amnestic Shellfish Poisoning and for the damage it inflicts on marine mammals, particularly California sea lions. Lethal effects of DA are often preceded by seizures and coma. Exposure to DA during development can result in subtle and highly persistent effects on brain development and include behavioral changes that resemble diagnostic features of schizophrenia and anomalies in social behavior we believe are relevant to autism spectrum disorder (ASD). To more fully examine this hypothesis, we chose to examine adolescent mice exposed in utero to DA for endpoints relevant to ASD, specifically changes in social behavior and network structure, the latter measured by resting state functional connectivity (rs-fcMRI). We found that male offspring exposed in utero to DA expressed reproducible declines in social interaction and atypical patterns of functional connectivity in the anterior cingulate, a region of the default mode network that is critical for social functioning. We also found disruptions in global topology in regions involved in the processing of reward, social, and sensory experiences. Finally, we found that DA exposed males expressed a pattern of local over-connectivity. These anomalies in brain connectivity bear resemblance to connectivity patterns in ASD and help validate DA-exposed mice as a model of this mental disability.

Keywords: Autism; Brain imaging; Mouse; Resting state functional connectivity; Social behavior.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Brain Mapping
  • Female
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Kainic Acid / analogs & derivatives*
  • Kainic Acid / toxicity
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Models, Neurological
  • Neural Pathways / diagnostic imaging*
  • Neurotoxins / toxicity*
  • Oxygen / blood
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects* / chemically induced
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects* / diagnostic imaging
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects* / physiopathology
  • Rest
  • Reward
  • Social Behavior
  • Social Behavior Disorders / chemically induced*
  • Social Behavior Disorders / diagnostic imaging
  • Vocalization, Animal / drug effects


  • Neurotoxins
  • domoic acid
  • Oxygen
  • Kainic Acid