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Environmental Enrichment Improves Metabolic and Behavioral Health in the BTBR Mouse Model of Autism

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Environmental Enrichment Improves Metabolic and Behavioral Health in the BTBR Mouse Model of Autism

Nicholas J Queen et al. Psychoneuroendocrinology.

Abstract

BTBR T + Itpr3tf/J (BTBR) mice are an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)-like model that exhibit behavioral and physiological deficits similar to those observed in patients with ASD. While behavioral therapy is a first line of treatment in ASD patients, comparable non-pharmacological treatments are less explored in murine models. Here, we administer a bio-behavioral intervention for BTBR mice by way of environmental enrichment (EE) - an experimental housing paradigm previously shown to improve systemic metabolism, learning/memory, anxious behavior, neurogenesis, locomotion, and immunocompetence in C57BL/6 mice. Juvenile BTBR mice were randomized to standard or EE housing and were subjected to metabolic and behavioral assessments up to 17 weeks. Following EE exposure, we report an EE-induced metabolic and behavioral phenotype. Male BTBR mice responded metabolically to EE, displaying reduced adiposity, increased lean mass, improved glycemic control, and decreased circulating leptin. The gene expressions of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (Bdnf) and its receptor (Ntrk2/TrkB) were upregulated in several brain areas in EE-BTBR males. EE-BTBR females showed modest reduction of adiposity and no changes in glycemic control, circulating leptin, or Bdnf/Ntrk2 gene expression. With regard to behavior, EE resulted in decreased anxiety, and increased social affiliation. Together, these results suggest that EE improves metabolic and behavioral health in BTBR mice.

Keywords: Autism spectrum disorder; BDNF; BTBR mice; Environmental enrichment; Metabolism; Sociability; TrkB.

Conflict of interest statement

CONFLICTS OF INTEREST

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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