Comorbid epilepsy in autism spectrum disorder: Implications of postnatal inflammation for brain excitability

Epilepsia. 2018 Jul;59(7):1316-1326. doi: 10.1111/epi.14440. Epub 2018 Jun 2.


Objective: In different cohorts, 5%-30% of individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) also have epilepsy. The high co-occurrence of these disorders suggests that a common mechanistic link may exist. The underlying pathophysiology of this comorbidity remains unknown. To investigate the mechanism(s) involved in the pathogenesis of ASD and epilepsy, we developed and validated a novel mouse model that concurrently exhibits hallmark features of both disorders.

Methods: We utilized inbred BTBR T+ Itpr3tf/J (BTBR) mice that exhibit the core behavioral characteristics of ASD (ie, impaired sociability, altered vocalizations, and restricted interests). BTBR mice received a lipopolysaccharide (LPS) or sterile saline injection at postnatal day (P)7, P14, or P21. Cytokine expression was analyzed for interleukin (IL)-1β, IL-10, IL-6, and tumor necrosis factor α in brain tissue of P7 and adult BTBR mice. Adult BTBR mice were behaviorally analyzed for seizure susceptibility, sociability, communication deficits, and motor stereotypies, and monitored using chronic video-electroencephalography (EEG).

Results: Adult male and female BTBR mice treated at P7-P14 with LPS were more sensitive to pentylenetetrazol-induced seizures than saline-treated controls. ASD-like behaviors and hippocampal cytokine levels were unchanged between P7 LPS-treated BTBR mice and controls. EEG recordings from the dorsal hippocampus revealed a significant increase in number and frequency of seizures over the 4-week recording period (P60-P88) in BTBR mice postnatally treated with LPS at P7. These results indicate the presence of a comorbid epileptic phenotype in BTBR mice.

Significance: These findings suggest that an early postnatal immune challenge can increase brain excitability in adult BTBR mice and reveal an underlying epilepsy phenotype. This novel animal model may enable the elucidation of specific molecular alterations that are associated with the concurrent presentation of ASD and epilepsy, which could facilitate the development of targeted therapies for individuals affected by this comorbidity.

Keywords: ASD; BTBR; comorbidity; electroencephalogram; seizure.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / complications*
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / physiopathology*
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiopathology
  • Comorbidity
  • Cytokines / blood
  • Disease Models, Animal*
  • Encephalitis / complications*
  • Encephalitis / physiopathology*
  • Epilepsy / complications*
  • Epilepsy / physiopathology*
  • Female
  • Hippocampus / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred Strains
  • Phenotype
  • Pregnancy


  • Cytokines

Grant support