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© 2020, The Author(s). Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a continuum of neurodevelopmental disorders and needs new therapeutic approaches. Recently, oxytocin (OXT) showed potential as the first anti-ASD drug. Many reports have described the efficacy of intranasal OXT therapy to improve the core symptoms of patients with ASD; however, the underlying neurobiological mechanism remains unknown. The OXT/oxytocin receptor (OXTR) system, through the lateral septum (LS), contributes to social behavior, which is disrupted in ASD. Therefore, we selectively express hM3Dq in OXTR-expressing (OXTR+) neurons in the LS to investigate this effect in ASD mouse models developed by environmental and genetic cues. In mice that received valproic acid (environmental cue), we demonstrated successful recovery of impaired social memory with three-chamber test after OXTR+ neuron activation in the LS. Application of a similar strategy to Nl3R451C knock-in mice (genetic cue) also caused successful recovery of impaired social memory in single field test. OXTR+ neurons in the LS, which are activated by social stimuli, are projected to the CA1 region of the hippocampus. This study identified a candidate mechanism for improving core symptoms of ASD by artificial activation of DREADDs, as a simulation of OXT administration to activate OXTR+ neurons in the LS.

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Scientific Reports