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Keywords:

  • diesel exhaust particles;
  • early-life exposure;
  • autism;
  • repetitive behaviors

Abundant evidence indicates that both genetic and environmental factors contribute to the etiology of autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). However, limited knowledge is available concerning these contributing factors. An epidemiology study reported a link between increased incidence of autism and living closely to major highways, suggesting a possible role for pollutants from highway traffic. We investigated whether maternal exposure to diesel exhaust particles (DEP) negatively affects fetal development leading to autism-like phenotype in mice. Female mice and their offspring were exposed to DEP during pregnancy and nursing. Adult male offspring were then tested for behaviors reflecting the typical symptoms of ASD patients. Compared to control mice, DEP-exposed offspring exhibited higher locomotor activity, elevated levels of self-grooming in the presence of an unfamiliar mouse, and increased rearing behaviors, which may be relevant to the restricted and repetitive behaviors seen in ASD patients. However, the DEP-exposed mice did not exhibit deficits in social interactions or social communication which are the key features of ASD. These results suggest that early life exposure to DEP could have an impact on mouse development leading to observable changes in animal behaviors. Further studies are needed to reveal other environmental insults and genetic factors that would lead to animal models expressing key phenotypes of the autism spectrum disorders. Autism Res 2013, ●●: ●●–●●. © 2013 International Society for Autism Research, Wiley Periodicals, Inc.