The amygdala plays crucial roles in socio-emotional behavior and cognition, both of which are abnormal in autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Valproic acid (VPA)-exposed rat offspring have demonstrated ASD phenotypes and amygdala excitatory/inhibitory imbalance. However, the role of glutamatergic synapses in this imbalance remains unclear. In this study, we used a VPA-induced ASD-like model to assess glutamatergic synapse-dependent long-term depression (LTD) and depotentiation (DPT) in the amygdala. We first confirmed that the VPA-exposed offspring exhibited sociability deficits, anxiety, depression-like behavior, and abnormal nociception thresholds. Then, electrophysiological examination showed a significantly decreased paired-pulse ratio in the amygdala. In addition, both NMDA-dependent LTD and DPT were absent from the amygdala. Furthermore, we found that the levels of glycogen synthase kinase3β (GSK-3β) phosphorylation and β-catenin were significantly higher in the amygdala of the experimental animals than in the controls. Local infusion of phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (PI3K) inhibitor wortmannin into the amygdala reversed the increased phosphorylation level and impaired social behavior. Taken together, the results suggested that NMDA receptor-related synaptic plasticity is dysfunctional in VPA-exposed offspring. In addition, GSK-3β in the amygdala is critical for synaptic plasticity at the glutamatergic synapses and is related to social behavior. Its role in the underlying mechanism of ASD merits further investigation.
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