Introduction: Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a complex neurodevelopmental disorder of early onset, characterized by impaired sociability, cognitive function and stereotypies. The etiology of ASD involves a multidimensional link between genetic, neurobiological and environmental factors. Since existing, comprehensive animal models for ASD are time consuming and laborious, the need for simple, quick approaches to study subsets of ASD-associated characteristics has always been in demand for better understanding of disease. The aim of the present study was to develop a cost and time effective zebrafish model with quantifiable parameters to facilitate mechanistic studies as well as high-throughput screening of new molecules for autism.
Methods: Zebrafish embryos were treated with valproic acid (75 μM) beginning at 4-h post fertilization to 5-days post fertilization. A series of behavioral tests (anxiety, inattentive behavior and circling behavior) and molecular studies were performed as surrogate parameters of ASD-like characteristic on the larvae at 7-dayspost fertilization for a quick screen. The study was followed by validation of model by screening positive control and negative control drugs. The social interaction test was performed on 21-days post fertilization to confirm that the surrogate phenotypes were indicative of social deficit (a core symptom of ASD).
Results: The model showed a significant behavioral impairment (2-4fold difference) in valproic acid treated larvae compared to control larvae, which was further supported by alterations in select high-risk genes and proteins, implicated in human ASD. Reversal of behavioral impairments using standard drugs marketed for symptomatic treatment in ASD and no effect on behaviors when treated with paracetamol (negative control) signifies the role of model in preliminary drug screening.
Conclusion: The model shows robust parameters to study behavior, molecular mechanism and drug screening approach in a single frame. Thus, we postulate that our 7-day larval model could be a useful preliminary screening tool to identify novel targets as well as potential drugs for autism and also can be applied to develop a high-throughput screening approach.
Keywords: Autism; Behavioral assay; Neurodevelopmental toxicity; Social interaction; Valproic acid; Zebrafish larvae.
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