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Neuroscience. 2016 Jun 2;324:511-23. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2016.01.030. Epub 2016 Jan 25.

Prenatal valproic acid exposure disrupts tonotopic c-Fos expression in the rat brainstem.

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Auditory Research Center, Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine, Erie, PA 16509, United States.
Auditory Research Center, Department of Anatomy, Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine, Erie, PA 16509, United States. Electronic address:


Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a group of neurodevelopmental conditions characterized by difficulties in communication and social interactions, restricted, repetitive behaviors and sensory abnormalities. Notably, the vast majority of individuals with ASD experience some degree of auditory dysfunction and we have recently reported consistent hypoplasia and dysmorphology in auditory brainstem centers in individuals with ASD. Prenatal exposure to the antiepileptic drug valproic acid (VPA) is associated with an increased risk of ASD. In rodents, prenatal exposure to VPA is employed as an animal model of ASD and is associated with a number of anatomical, physiological and behavioral deficits, including hypoplasia and dysmorphology of auditory brainstem centers. Based on these observations, we hypothesized that such dysmorphology in VPA-exposed animals would translate into abnormal neuronal activity in brainstem circuits and irregular tonotopic maps. Herein, we have subjected control and VPA-exposed animals to 4- or 16-kHz tones and examined neuronal activation with immunohistochemistry for c-Fos. After these exposures, we identified significantly more c-Fos-positive neurons in the auditory brainstem of VPA-exposed animals. Additionally, we observed a larger dispersion of c-Fos-positive neurons and shifted tonotopic bands in VPA-exposed rats. We interpret these findings to suggest hyper-responsiveness to sounds and disrupted mapping of sound frequencies after prenatal VPA exposure. Based on these findings, we suggest that such abnormal patterns of activation may play a role in auditory processing deficits in ASD.


auditory; autism; hearing; superior olive

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