Examining the effect of chronic intranasal oxytocin administration on the neuroanatomy and behavior of three autism-related mouse models
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Although initially showing great potential, oxytocin treatment has encountered a translational hurdle in its promise of treating the social deficits of autism. Some debate surrounds the ability of oxytocin to successfully enter the brain, and therefore modify neuroanatomy. Moreover, given the heterogeneous nature of autism, treatment will only amerliorate symptoms in a subset of patients. Therefore, to determine whether oxytocin changes brain circuitry, and whether it does so variably, depending on genotype, we implemented a large randomized, blinded, placebo-controlled, preclinical study on chronic intranasal oxytocin treatment in three different mouse models related to autism with a focus on using neuroanatomical phenotypes to assess and subset treatment response. Intranasal oxytocin (0.6IU) was administered daily, for 28 days, starting at 5 weeks of age to the 16p11.2 deletion, Shank3 (exon 4-9) knockout, and Fmr1 knockout mouse models. Given the sensitivity of structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to the neurological effects of interventions like drugs, along with many other advantages, the mice underwent in vivo longitudinal and high-resolution ex vivo imaging with MRI. The scans included three in vivo T1weighted, 90 um isotropic resolution scans and a T2-weighted, 3D fast spin echo with 40um isotropic resolution ex vivo scan to assess the changes in neuroanatomy using established automated image registration and deformation based morphometry approaches in response to oxytocin treatment. The behavior of the mice was assessed in multiple domains, including social behaviours and repetitive behaviours, among others. Treatment effect on the neuroanatomy did not reach significance, although the pattern of trending effects was promising. No significant effect of treatment was found on social behavior in any of the strains, although a significant effect of treatment was found in the Fmr1 mouse, with treatment normalizing a grooming deficit. No other treatment effect on behavior was observed that survived multiple comparisons correction. Overall, chronic treatment with oxytocin had limited effects on the three mouse models related to autism, and no promising pattern of response susceptibility emerged.
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