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Neural Plasticity
Volume 2017 (2017), Article ID 9498247, 14 pages
Research Article

Autism-Like Behaviours and Memory Deficits Result from a Western Diet in Mice

1Department of Neuroscience, School for Mental Health and Neuroscience, Maastricht University, Universiteitssingel 40, 6200 MD Maastricht, Netherlands
2Institute of Molecular Medicine, Sechenov First Moscow State Medical University, Moscow 119991, Russia
3Faculty of Medicine, Neuroscience Research Center of Lyon, C. Bernard University, 8 Av. Rockefeller, 69373 Lyon, France
4Department of Anaesthesiology, Queen Mary Hospital, The University of Hong Kong, 102 Pokfulam, Hong Kong
5Department of Normal Physiology, Sechenov First Moscow State Medical University, Moscow 119991, Russia
6Laboratory of Biomolecular Screening, Institute of Physiologically Active Compounds, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow Region, Russia
7Division of Molecular Psychiatry, Laboratory of Translational Neuroscience, Department of Psychiatry, Psychosomatics and Psychotherapy, University of Würzburg, Fuechsleinstrasse 15, 97080 Würzburg, Germany
8Department of Pharmacology, Oxford University, Mansfield Road, Oxford OX1 3QT, UK

Correspondence should be addressed to Daniel C. Anthony and Tatyana Strekalova

Received 7 January 2017; Revised 9 March 2017; Accepted 20 March 2017; Published 8 June 2017

Academic Editor: Bruno Poucet

Copyright © 2017 Ekaterina Veniaminova et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, induced by a Western diet (WD), evokes central and peripheral inflammation that is accompanied by altered emotionality. These changes can be associated with abnormalities in social behaviour, hippocampus-dependent cognitive functions, and metabolism. Female C57BL/6J mice were fed with a regular chow or with a WD containing 0.2% of cholesterol and 21% of saturated fat for three weeks. WD-treated mice exhibited increased social avoidance, crawl-over and digging behaviours, decreased body-body contacts, and hyperlocomotion. The WD-fed group also displayed deficits in hippocampal-dependent performance such as contextual memory in a fear conditioning and pellet displacement paradigms. A reduction in glucose tolerance and elevated levels of serum cholesterol and leptin were also associated with the WD. The peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor gamma coactivator 1-alpha (PPARGC1a) mRNA, a marker of mitochondrial activity, was decreased in the prefrontal cortex, hippocampus, hypothalamus, and dorsal raphe, suggesting suppressed brain mitochondrial functions, but not in the liver. This is the first report to show that a WD can profoundly suppress social interactions and induce dominant-like behaviours in naïve adult mice. The spectrum of behaviours that were found to be induced are reminiscent of symptoms associated with autism, and, if paralleled in humans, suggest that a WD might exacerbate autism spectrum disorder.