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Abnormal empathy-like pro-social behaviour in the valproic acid model of autism spectrum disorder

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  • Mellanie Fontes-Dutra
  • Gustavo Della-Flora Nunes
  • Júlio Santos-Terra
  • Walquíria Souza-Nunes
  • Guilherme Bauer-Negrini
  • Mauro Mozael Hirsch
  • Lily Green
  • Rudimar Riesgo
  • Carmem Gottfried
  • Victorio Bambini-Junior
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>17/05/2019
<mark>Journal</mark>Behavioural Brain Research
Number of pages8
Pages (from-to)11-18
Publication StatusPublished
Early online date14/02/19
<mark>Original language</mark>English


Impairments in social behaviour are a defining feature of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Individuals with ASD also usually present some difficulty to recognize or understand another person's feelings. Therefore, it is possible that altered empathy processing could hinder typical social interaction in ASD. Recently, robust paradigms confirmed that rodents show primordial forms of empathy-like behaviour. Therefore, in this work, we used one of these new protocols to test pro-social behaviour in the rat model of autism induced by Valproic Acid (VPA). We also evaluated possible beneficial effects of Resveratrol, since it can prevent social deficits in the VPA model. Rats were tested on their ability to open a restrainer to release a trapped conspecific. Exposure to VPA precludes the timely manifestation of this empathy-like behaviour, but does not affect its continuation after its first expression. We also found a significant correlation between average speed during the first day of test and becoming an Opener. Similarly, rats able to open the restrainer on the first day had an increased likelihood of repeating this behaviour in the later days of the testing programme. We did not find any protective effects of Resveratrol. Further investigation of empathy-like behaviour in the VPA model and in other models of autism could help to clarify the behavioural and neural processes underpinning the basic aspects of empathy alterations in autistic individuals.

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Copyright © 2019. Published by Elsevier B.V.