Enriching environment improves social interactions

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by Wayne Pereanu

What was known.
A chemical called valproic acid is sometimes used to treat epilepsy in humans. However, it was found that using valproic acid during pregnancy resulted in a six times higher risk that the child would be diagnosed with ASD. Some researchers expose pregnant animals to valproic acid. This sometimes results in their offspring having impaired social behavior.

What's new?
Connor D. Martin presented unpublished data at a poster session on November 12th. They tried putting normal and valproic acid-exposed rats in either sterile or enriched environments. The enriched environments were three-story cages with ropes, ladders, and toys (that were rotated daily). They then measured how long rats would spend interacting with sensory or social tests. The found that having an enriched environment did not effect the sensory test. However, the rats that had lived in an enriched environment had increased social interactions. This effect was seen in both normal and valproic acid-exposed rats, suggesting that (for this particular case) an enriching environment was able to alleviate the effects of valproic acid.