Microglia in animal models of autism spectrum disorders

Prog Mol Biol Transl Sci. 2020:173:239-273. doi: 10.1016/bs.pmbts.2020.04.012. Epub 2020 May 8.


Various genetic and environmental factors have been suggested to cause autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). A variety of animal models of ASDs have been developed and used to investigate the mechanisms underlying the pathogenesis of ASDs. These animal models have contributed to clarifying that abnormalities in neuronal morphology and neurotransmission are responsible for the onset of ASDs. In recent years, researchers have started to focus not only on neurons but also on glial cells, particularly microglia. This is because microglial malfunction is strongly associated with structural and functional abnormalities of neurons, as well as the inflammation that is commonly observed both in the brains of patients with ASDs and in animal models of ASDs. In this chapter, we first introduce a list of commonly available animal models of ASDs and describe the validity of each model from the viewpoint of behaviors and neuroanatomy. We next detail the malfunction of microglia that has been reported in animal models of ASDs and discuss the roles of microglia in ASD pathogenesis. We will further propose possible therapeutic strategies to tackle ASDs by controlling microglial functions.

Keywords: Animal models; Autism; E/I balance; Inflammation; Microglia; Synapse.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / pathology*
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Environment
  • Humans
  • Microglia / pathology*