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Brain Res. 2012 May 21;1455:56-67. doi: 10.1016/j.brainres.2012.03.041. Epub 2012 Mar 25.

Longitudinal in-vivo diffusion tensor imaging for assessing brain developmental changes in BALB/cJ mice, a model of reduced sociability relevant to autism.

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  • 1Department of Radiology, Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, B6 Blockley Hall, 423 Guardian Drive, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA.


Diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) is highly sensitive in detecting brain structure and connectivity phenotypes in autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Since one of the core symptoms of ASD is reduced sociability (reduced tendency to seek social interaction), we hypothesized that DTI will be sensitive in detecting neural phenotypes that correlate with decreased sociability in mouse models. Relative to C57BL/6J (B6) mice, juvenile BALB/cJ mice show reduced sociability. We performed social approach test in a three-chambered apparatus and in-vivo longitudinal DTI at post-natal days 30, 50 and 70 days-of-age in BALB/cJ (n=32) and B6 (n=15) mice to assess the correlation between DTI and sociability and to evaluate differences in DTI parameters between these two strains. Fractional anisotropy (FA) and mean diffusivity (MD) values from in-vivo DTI data were analyzed from white matter (corpus callosum, internal and external capsule) and gray matter (cerebral cortex, frontal motor cortex, hippocampus, thalamus and amygdaloid) regions based on their relevance to ASD. A moderate but significant (p<0.05) negative correlation between sociability and FA in hippocampus and frontal motor cortex was noted for BALB/cJ mice at 30 days-of-age. Significant differences in FA and MD values between BALB/cJ and B6 mice were observed in most white and gray matter areas at all three time points. Significant differences in developmental trajectories of FA and MD values from thalamus and frontal motor cortex were also observed between BALB/cJ and B6, indicating relative under-connectivity in BALB/cJ mice. These results indicate that DTI may be used as an in-vivo, non-invasive imaging method to assess developmental trajectories of brain connectivity in mouse models of neurodevelopmental and behavioral disorders.

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