Purpose: Autism is a multifactorial disorder that involves impairments in social interactions and communication, as well as restricted and repetitive behaviors. About 30% of individuals with autism develop epilepsy by adulthood. The EL mouse has long been studied as a natural model of multifactorial idiopathic generalized epilepsy with complex partial seizures. Because epilepsy is a comorbid trait of autism, we evaluated the EL mouse for behaviors associated with autism.
Methods: We compared the behavior of EL mice to age-matched control DDY mice, a genetically related nonepileptic strain. The mice were compared in the open field and in the light–dark compartment tests to measure activity, exploratory behavior, and restricted and repetitive behaviors. The social transmission of food preference test was employed to evaluate social communication. Home-cage behavior was also evaluated in EL and DDY mice as a measure of repetitive activity.
Key Findings: We found that EL mice displayed several behavioral abnormalities characteristic of autism. Impairments in social interaction and restricted patterns of interest were evident in EL mice. Activity, exploratory behavior, and restricted behavior were significantly greater in EL mice than in DDY mice. EL mice exhibited impairment in the social transmission of food preference assay. In addition, a stereotypic myoclonic jumping behavior was observed in EL mice, but was not seen in DDY mice. It is of interest to note that seizure activity within 24 h of testing exacerbated the autistic behavioral abnormalities found in EL mice.
Significance: These findings suggest that the EL mouse expresses behavioral abnormalities similar to those seen in persons with autism. We propose that the EL mouse can be utilized as a natural model of autism and epilepsy.