Derrick F. MacFabe, Donald P. Cain, Karina Rodriguez-Capote, Andrew E. Franklin, Jennifer E. Hoffman, Francis Boon, A. Roy Taylor, Martin Kavaliers, Klaus-Peter Ossenkopp
Clinical observations suggest that certain gut and dietary factors may transiently worsen symptoms in autism spectrum disorders (ASD), epilepsy and some inheritable metabolic disorders. Propionic acid (PPA) is a short chain fatty acid and an important intermediate of cellular metabolism. PPA is also a by-product of a subpopulation of human gut enterobacteria and is a common food preservative. We examined the behavioural, electrophysiological, neuropathological, and biochemical effects of treatment with PPA and related compounds in adult rats. Intraventricular infusions of PPA produced reversible repetitive dystonic behaviours, hyperactivity, turning behaviour, retropulsion, caudate spiking, and the progressive development of limbic kindled seizures, suggesting that this compound has central effects. Biochemical analyses of brain homogenates from PPA treated rats showed an increase in oxidative stress markers (e.g., lipid peroxidation and protein carbonylation) and glutathione S-transferase activity coupled with a decrease in glutathione and glutathione peroxidase activity. Neurohistological examinations of hippocampus and adjacent white matter (external capsule) of PPA treated rats revealed increased reactive astrogliosis (GFAP immunoreactivity) and activated microglia (CD68 immunoreactivity) suggestive of a neuroinflammatory process. This was coupled with a lack of cytotoxicity (cell counts, cleaved caspase 3′ immunoreactivity), and an increase in phosphorylated CREB immunoreactivity. We propose that some types of autism may be partial forms of genetically inherited or acquired disorders involving altered PPA metabolism. Thus, intraventricular administration of PPA in rats may provide a means to model some aspects of human ASD in rats.