Stress contributes to the development of autism – a study by Russian scientists

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Chronic anxiety can lead to autism. This conclusion was made by Siberian scientists who observed mice under constant stress – the rodents showed signs of severe mental disorder.

Rodents, which for a long time coexisted with aggressive relatives, later showed indifference

As it became known to “MK”, ​​recently scientists from the Institute of Cytology and Genetics of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences summed up the results of experiments that were supposed to reveal the degree of influence of stress on the state and behavior of mice. Male rodents were placed in pairs in adjacent cages, separated by a transparent partition with holes: once a day, the partition was raised, and the rodents began to “sort things out” in the struggle for territory. As a result, the type of behavior of each of the males became obvious – aggressive or submissive. After 20 days of the experiment, the mice moved into cages with peaceful partners, but the animals were no longer ready for a “peaceful life”. Males of the aggressive type avoided friendly “neighbors” or attacked them, and constantly moved chaotically around the cage. Males of the subordinate type, on the contrary, huddled in a corner, not paying any attention to their “neighbor”: they cleaned their fur for a long time and were indifferent to the environment. It was the behavior of the “subordinate” mice that reminded scientists of human autism, the main symptoms of which are considered avoidance of social contact, inappropriate behavior in the social environment, and limited, repetitive behavior. As experts note, prolonged exposure to a negative environment (in this case, aggressive contacts with relatives) leads to a change in behavior, which is accompanied by a decrease in communication and inadequate perception of what is happening. These signs in mice persisted throughout testing (about a week), but in the future, scientists plan to analyze the effects of social stress, which will manifest themselves later.

“The fact that autism in people appears as a result of a combination of genetic and environmental factors has been talked about relatively recently,” explains Irina Kovalenko, senior researcher in the sector of neurogenetics of social behavior, ICG SB RAS. – Prior to this, autism was considered a developmental disease, which is formed under the influence of hereditary factors or when exposed to negative environmental factors during the prenatal or early postnatal periods. And our work proves that symptoms of the autism spectrum can develop under long-term exposure to factors of a negative social environment.