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Neuroscience. 2010 Dec 29;171(4):1197-208. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2010.09.059. Epub 2010 Oct 1.

Low stress reactivity and neuroendocrine factors in the BTBR T+tf/J mouse model of autism.

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Laboratory of Behavioral Neuroscience, Intramural Research Program, National Institute of Mental Health, Bethesda, MD, USA.


Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by abnormal reciprocal social interactions, communication deficits, and repetitive behaviors with restricted interests. BTBR T+tf/J (BTBR) is an inbred mouse strain that displays robust behavioral phenotypes with analogies to all three of the diagnostic symptoms of autism, including low social interactions, reduced vocalizations in social settings, and high levels of repetitive self-grooming. Autism-relevant phenotypes in BTBR offer translational tools to discover neurochemical mechanisms underlying unusual mouse behaviors relevant to symptoms of autism. Because repetitive self-grooming in mice may be a displacement behavior elevated by stressors, we investigated neuroendocrine markers of stress and behavioral reactivity to stressors in BTBR mice, as compared to C57BL/6J (B6), a standard inbred strain with high sociability. Radioimmunoassays replicated previous findings that circulating corticosterone is higher in BTBR than in B6. Higher basal glucocorticoid receptor mRNA and higher oxytocin peptide levels were detected in the brains of BTBR as compared to B6. No significant differences were detected in corticotrophin releasing factor (CRF) peptide or CRF mRNA. In response to behavioral stressors, BTBR and B6 were generally similar on behavioral tasks including stress-induced hyperthermia, elevated plus-maze, light ↔ dark exploration, tail flick, acoustic startle and prepulse inhibition. BTBR displayed less reactivity than B6 to a noxious thermal stimulus in the hot plate, and less immobility than B6 in both the forced swim and tail suspension depression-related tasks. BTBR, therefore, exhibited lower depression-like scores than B6 on two standard tests sensitive to antidepressants, did not differ from B6 on two well-validated anxiety-like behaviors, and did not exhibit unusual stress reactivity to sensory stimuli. Our findings support the interpretation that autism-relevant social deficits, vocalizations, and repetitive behaviors are not the result of abnormal stress reactivity in the BTBR mouse model of autism.

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