Autism-like behavioral phenotypes in BTBR T+tf/J mice

H. G. McFarlane, G. K. Kusek, M. Yang, J. L. Phoenix, V. J. Bolivar, Jacqueline Crawley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

506 Scopus citations


Autism is a behaviorally defined neurodevelopmental disorder of unknown etiology. Mouse models with face validity to the core symptoms offer an experimental approach to test hypotheses about the causes of autism and translational tools to evaluate potential treatments. We discovered that the inbred mouse strain BTBR T+tf/J (BTBR) incorporates multiple behavioral phenotypes relevant to all three diagnostic symptoms of autism. BTBR displayed selectively reduced social approach, low reciprocal social interactions and impaired juvenile play, as compared with C57BL/6J (B6) controls. Impaired social transmission of food preference in BTBR suggests communication deficits. Repetitive behaviors appeared as high levels of self-grooming by juvenile and adult BTBR mice. Comprehensive analyses of procedural abilities confirmed that social recognition and olfactory abilities were normal in BTBR, with no evidence for high anxiety-like traits or motor impairments, supporting an interpretation of highly specific social deficits. Database comparisons between BTBR and B6 on 124 putative autism candidate genes showed several interesting single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in the BTBR genetic background, including a nonsynonymous coding region polymorphism in Kmo. The Kmo gene encodes kynurenine 3-hydroxylase, an enzyme-regulating metabolism of kynurenic acid, a glutamate antagonist with neuroprotective actions. Sequencing confirmed this coding SNP in Kmo, supporting further investigation into the contribution of this polymorphism to autism-like behavioral phenotypes. Robust and selective social deficits, repetitive self-grooming, genetic stability and commercial availability of the BTBR inbred strain encourage its use as a research tool to search for background genes relevant to the etiology of autism, and to explore therapeutics to treat the core symptoms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)152-163
Number of pages12
JournalGenes, Brain and Behavior
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • Anxiety
  • Autism
  • Gene
  • Grooming
  • Inbred strain
  • Kynurenic acid
  • Olfaction
  • Repetitive behaviors
  • Single nucleotide polymorphism
  • Social behaviors
  • Social communication

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Genetics


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