Handling at a Critical Developmental Period Can Reduce Autism-Related Behaviors

May 22, 2022

Mouse Study Suggests that Juvenile Social Stimulation Can Have Profound Effects on Later Conduct

Researchers from Argentina recently set out to explore the influence of environmental factors on neurodevelopmental trajectories. Specifically, the team investigated how these factors affect adult brain function and behavior. The researchers narrowed their work to study the impact of juvenile handling of mice and how this handling affected the mice’s behavior and activities later in adulthood. To conduct this research, the authors prenatally exposed mice to valproic acid (VPA), which causes autism-like behaviors. After the VPA-exposed mice were weaned (postnatal day 21), the researchers briefly handled the pups every other day between postnatal days 22 and 34. The authors discovered that handling induced stress in mice and that repeating the procedure affected the response of these animals to the experimenter and the behavioral challenge. Interestingly, even though human hands have no resemblance to rodents, the authors found the hand’s movements can employ social attraction and may even act as social stimulation. The study’s results showed three different conclusions. The authors first discovered that handling had profound effects on the mice’s adult behavior and activity. Second, they identified a juvenile developmental window of susceptibility when environmental factors, like handling, could significantly affect adult behavior. Lastly, the team showed that juvenile handling could reverse the detrimental effect of prenatal VPA exposure on sociability, repetitive behaviors, and depression-related behaviors. 

Original Study

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