Maternal immune activation and strain specific interactions in the development of autism-like behaviors in mice

J. J. Schwartzer, M. Careaga, C. E. Onore, J. A. Rushakoff, Robert F Berman, Paul Ashwood

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

125 Scopus citations


It is becoming increasingly apparent that the causes of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are due to both genetic and environmental factors. Animal studies provide important translational models for elucidating specific genetic or environmental factors that contribute to ASD-related behavioral deficits. For example, mouse research has demonstrated a link between maternal immune activation and the expression of ASD-like behaviors. Although these studies have provided insights into the potential causes of ASD, they are limited in their ability to model the important interactions between genetic variability and environmental insults. This is of particular concern given the broad spectrum of severity observed in the human population, suggesting that subpopulations may be more susceptible to the adverse effects of particular environmental insults. It is hypothesized that the severity of effects of maternal immune activation on ASD-like phenotypes is influenced by the genetic background in mice. To test this, pregnant dams of two inbred strains (that is, C57BL/6J and BTBR Ttf/J) were exposed to the viral mimic polyinosinic-polycytidylic acid (polyI:C), and their offspring were tested for the presence and severity of ASD-like behaviors. To identify differences in immune system regulation, spleens were processed and measured for alterations in induced cytokine responses. Strain-treatment interactions were observed in social approach, ultrasonic vocalization, repetitive grooming and marble burying behaviors. Interestingly, persistent dysregulation of adaptive immune system function was only observed in BTBR mice. Data suggest that behavioral and immunological effects of maternal immune activation are straindependent in mice.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere240
JournalTranslational Psychiatry
StatePublished - 2013


  • Autism spectrum disorders
  • BTBR
  • Gene-environment
  • Maternal immune activation
  • Mouse
  • PolyI:C

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Biological Psychiatry
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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