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Keywords:

  • autism;
  • BTBR inbred strain;
  • environmental enrichment;
  • mouse model;
  • repetitive behavior;
  • stereotypy

Lower order and higher order repetitive behaviors have been documented in the BTBR T+tf/J (BTBR) mouse strain, a mouse model that exhibits all three core behavioral domains that define autism. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the effectiveness of environmental enrichment for reducing repetitive behaviors in BTBR mice. Lower order behaviors were captured by assaying the time and sequence of grooming, while higher order behaviors were measured using pattern analysis of an object exploration task from digital recordings. Baseline scores were established at 7 weeks of age, followed by 30 days of housing in either a standard or enriched cage. As expected, BTBR mice spent significantly more time grooming and had a more rigid grooming sequence than control C57BL/6J mice did at baseline. After 30 days of enrichment housing, BTBR mice demonstrated a significant reduction in time spent grooming, resulting in levels that were lower than those exhibited by BTBR mice in standard housing. However, no changes were noted in the rigidity of their grooming sequence. In contrast to previous findings, there was no difference in repetitive patterns of exploration at baseline between BTBR and C57BL/6J mice in the object exploration test. Subsequently, enrichment did not significantly alter the number of repetitive patterns at posttest. Overall, the results suggest that environmental enrichment may be beneficial for reducing the time spent engaging in lower order repetitive behaviors, but may not change the overall quality of the behaviors when they do manifest. Autism Res 2013, ●●: ●●–●●. © 2013 International Society for Autism Research, Wiley Periodicals, Inc.