Background: Escalating prevalence of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) in recent decades has triggered increasing efforts in understanding roles played by environmental risk factors as a way to address this widespread public health concern. Several epidemiological studies show associations between developmental exposure to traffic-related air pollution and increased ASD risk. In rodent models, a limited number of studies have shown that developmental exposure to ambient ultrafine particulates or diesel exhaust (DE) can result in behavioral phenotypes consistent with mild ASD. We performed a series of experiments to determine whether developmental DE exposure induces ASD-related behaviors in mice. Results: C57Bl/6J mice were exposed from embryonic day 0 to postnatal day 21 to 250-300 μg/m 3 DE or filtered air (FA) as control. Mice exposed developmentally to DE exhibited deficits in all three of the hallmark categories of ASD behavior: reduced social interaction in the reciprocal interaction and social preference tests, increased repetitive behavior in the T-maze and marble-burying test, and reduced or altered communication as assessed by measuring isolation-induced ultrasonic vocalizations and responses to social odors. Conclusions: These findings demonstrate that exposure to traffic-related air pollution, in particular that associated with diesel-fuel combustion, can cause ASD-related behavioral changes in mice, and raise concern about air pollution as a contributor to the onset of ASD in humans.
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