Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that exhibits neurobehavioral deficits characterized by abnormalities in social interactions, deficits in communication as well as restricted interests, and repetitive behaviors. The basal ganglia is one of the brain regions implicated as dysfunctional in ASD. In particular, the defects in corticostriatal function have been reported to be involved in the pathogenesis of ASD. Surface deformation of the striatum in the brains of patients with ASD and their correlation with behavioral symptoms was reported in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) studies. We demonstrated that prenatal valproic acid (VPA) exposure induced synaptic and molecular changes and decreased neuronal activity in the striatum. Using RNA sequencing (RNA-Seq), we analyzed transcriptome alterations in striatal tissues from 10-week-old prenatally VPA-exposed BALB/c male mice. Among the upregulated genes, Nurr1 was significantly upregulated in striatal tissues from prenatally VPA-exposed mice. Viral knockdown of Nurr1 by shRNA significantly rescued the reduction in dendritic spine density and the number of mature dendritic spines in the striatum and markedly improved social deficits in prenatally VPA-exposed mice. In addition, treatment with amodiaquine, which is a known ligand for Nurr1, mimicked the social deficits and synaptic abnormalities in saline-exposed mice as observed in prenatally VPA-exposed mice. Furthermore, PatDp+/- mice, a commonly used ASD genetic mouse model, also showed increased levels of Nurr1 in the striatum. Taken together, these results suggest that the increase in Nurr1 expression in the striatum is a mechanism related to the changes in synaptic deficits and behavioral phenotypes of the VPA-induced ASD mouse model.
© 2022. The Author(s).