Review of animal models for autism: implication of thyroid hormone


Nobumasa Kato, MD, PhD, Department of Neuropsychiatry, Graduate School of Medicine, University of Tokyo, 7-3-1 Hongo, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo 113-8655, Japan. Email:


ABSTRACT    Autism is a behaviorally defined disorder associated with characteristic impairments in social interactions and communication, as well as restricted and repetitive behaviors and interest. Its prevalence was once thought to be 2/10 000, but recently several large autism prevalence reviews revealed that the rate of occurrence was roughly 30/10 000. While it has been considered a developmental disorder, little is certain about its etiology. Neuroanatomical studies at the histological level in the brains of autistic patients provide many arguments in the etiology of autism. Results from postmortem and imaging studies have implicated many major structures of the brain including the limbic system, cerebellum, corpus callosum, basal ganglia and brainstem. There is no single biological or clinical marker for autism. While several promising candidate genes have been presented, the critical loci are yet unknown. Environmental influences such as rubella virus, valproic acid, and thalidomide exposure during pregnancy are also considered important, as concordance in monozygotic twins is less than 100% and the phenotypic expression of the disorder varies widely. It is thus hypothesized that non-genetic mechanisms contribute to the onset of autistic syndrome. In light of these ambiguities, hope is held that an animal model of autism may help elucidate matters. In this article, we overview most of the currently available animal models for autism, and propose the rat with mild and transient neonatal hypothyroidism as a novel model for autism.