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Neuropharmacology. 2008 May;54(6):901-11. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropharm.2008.01.013. Epub 2008 Feb 13.

Intracerebroventricular injection of propionic acid, an enteric bacterial metabolic end-product, impairs social behavior in the rat: implications for an animal model of autism.

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The Kilee Patchell-Evans Autism Research Group, Department of Psychology and Graduate Program in Neuroscience, University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario, Canada.


Environmental, dietary, and gastrointestinal factors may contribute to autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Propionic acid (PPA) is a short chain fatty acid, a metabolic end-product of enteric bacteria in the gut, and a common food preservative. Recent evidence indicates that PPA can cause behavioral abnormalities and a neuroinflammatory response in rats. Social behavior was examined in similarly-treated pairs of adult male Long-Evans rats placed in an open field following intracerebroventricular (ICV) injection of PPA (4 microl of 0.26 M solution) or control compounds. Behavior was analyzed using both the EthoVision behavior tracking system and by blind scoring of videotapes of social behaviors. Compared to controls, rats treated with PPA displayed social behavior impairments as indicated by significantly greater mean distance apart, reduced time spent in close proximity, reduced playful interaction, and altered responses to playful initiations. Treatment with another short chain fatty acid, sodium acetate, produced similar impairments, but treatment with the alcohol analog of PPA, 1-propanol, did not produce impairments. Immunohistochemical analysis of brain tissue taken from rats treated with PPA revealed reactive astrogliosis, indicating a neuroinflammatory response. These findings suggest that PPA can change both brain and behavior in the laboratory rat in a manner that is consistent with symptoms of human ASD.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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