Systemic enhancement of serotonin signaling reverses social deficits in multiple mouse models for ASD

Neuropsychopharmacology. 2021 Oct;46(11):2000-2010. doi: 10.1038/s41386-021-01091-6. Epub 2021 Jul 8.


Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a common set of heterogeneous neurodevelopmental disorders resulting from a variety of genetic and environmental risk factors. A core feature of ASD is impairment in prosocial interactions. Current treatment options for individuals diagnosed with ASD are limited, with no current FDA-approved medications that effectively treat its core symptoms. We recently demonstrated that enhanced serotonin (5-HT) activity in the nucleus accumbens (NAc), via optogenetic activation of 5-HTergic inputs or direct infusion of a specific 5-HT1b receptor agonist, reverses social deficits in a genetic mouse model for ASD based on 16p11.2 copy number variation. Furthermore, the recreational drug MDMA, which is currently being evaluated in clinical trials, promotes sociability in mice due to its 5-HT releasing properties in the NAc. Here, we systematically evaluated the ability of MDMA and a selective 5-HT1b receptor agonist to rescue sociability deficits in multiple different mouse models for ASD. We find that MDMA administration enhances sociability in control mice and reverses sociability deficits in all four ASD mouse models examined, whereas administration of a 5-HT1b receptor agonist selectively rescued the sociability deficits in all six mouse models for ASD. These preclinical findings suggest that pharmacological enhancement of 5-HT release or direct 5-HT1b receptor activation may be therapeutically efficacious in ameliorating some of the core sociability deficits present across etiologically distinct presentations of ASD.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder* / drug therapy
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder* / genetics
  • DNA Copy Number Variations
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Mice
  • Serotonin
  • Social Behavior


  • Serotonin