As an important prerequisite, it is necessary to use appropriate behavioral test batteries for the validation of an animal model of autism. The three core symptoms of autism should be targeted first:
1. Impairment in social interaction is a critical component for such models. Rodents are highly social animals displaying a plethora of different social behaviors. The propensity of animals to spend time with conspecific rather than non-social novel objects shall be used as one of the measures. This can be best done in an automated three-chambered apparatus in which social interactions, social recognition, and social memory can also be scored (Crawley 2007). Measures of the level of social approach should be accompanied by more specific analyses of reciprocal social interactions, including, nose-to-nose contacts, anogenital inspections, aggression, escape behavior, nesting patterns, juvenile rough and tumble play, etc.
2. Impairments in social communication may be me-aured in rodents using olfactory and auditory communication tasks. Different kinds of ► ultrasonic vocalizations can be elicited in rodents, starting from separation calls in pups isolated from their mothers, to frequency modulated vocalizations in social situations in adult animals, treated, at least in rats, as indicators of positive and negative affective states (Portfors 2007). Both frequency and time structures of ultrasonic vocalizations should be analyzed. Olfactory social signals, including deposition of ► pheromones,
Autism: Animal Models. Table 1. Rodent behavioral tasks relevant to autism (for references see Crawley 2007).
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