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PLoS One. 2015 Mar 24;10(3):e0121663. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0121663. eCollection 2015.

Prenatal exposure to a common organophosphate insecticide delays motor development in a mouse model of idiopathic autism.

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Section of Neurotoxicology and Neuroendocrinology, Department of Cell Biology and Neurosciences, Istituto Superiore di Sanità, Rome, Italy; Department of Physiology and Pharmacology "Vittorio Erspamer", Sapienza University of Rome, Rome, Italy.
Section of Neurotoxicology and Neuroendocrinology, Department of Cell Biology and Neurosciences, Istituto Superiore di Sanità, Rome, Italy.


Autism spectrum disorders are characterized by impaired social and communicative skills and repetitive behaviors. Emerging evidence supported the hypothesis that these neurodevelopmental disorders may result from a combination of genetic susceptibility and exposure to environmental toxins in early developmental phases. This study assessed the effects of prenatal exposure to chlorpyrifos (CPF), a widely diffused organophosphate insecticide endowed with developmental neurotoxicity at sub-toxic doses, in the BTBR T+tf/J mouse strain, a validated model of idiopathic autism that displays several behavioral traits relevant to the autism spectrum. To this aim, pregnant BTBR mice were administered from gestational day 14 to 17 with either vehicle or CPF at a dose of 6 mg/kg/bw by oral gavages. Offspring of both sexes underwent assessment of early developmental milestones, including somatic growth, motor behavior and ultrasound vocalization. To evaluate the potential long-term effects of CPF, two different social behavior patterns typically altered in the BTBR strain (free social interaction with a same-sex companion in females, or interaction with a sexually receptive female in males) were also examined in the two sexes at adulthood. Our findings indicate significant effects of CPF on somatic growth and neonatal motor patterns. CPF treated pups showed reduced weight gain, delayed motor maturation (i.e., persistency of immature patterns such as pivoting at the expenses of coordinated locomotion) and a trend to enhanced ultrasound vocalization. At adulthood, CPF associated alterations were found in males only: the altered pattern of investigation of a sexual partner, previously described in BTBR mice, was enhanced in CPF males, and associated to increased ultrasonic vocalization rate. These findings strengthen the need of future studies to evaluate the role of environmental chemicals in the etiology of neurodevelopment disorders.

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