High-Frequency Stimulation at the Subthalamic Nucleus Suppresses Excessive Self-Grooming in Autism-Like Mouse Models

Andrew D. Chang, Victoria A. Berges, Sunho J. Chung, Gene Y. Fridman, Jay M. Baraban, Irving M. Reti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Approximately one quarter of individuals with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) display self-injurious behavior (SIB) ranging from head banging to self-directed biting and punching. Sometimes, these behaviors are extreme and unresponsive to pharmacological and behavioral therapies. We have found electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) can produce life-changing results, with more than 90% suppression of SIB frequency. However, these patients typically require frequent maintenance ECT (mECT), as often as every 5 days, to sustain the improvement gained during the acute course. Long-term consequences of such frequent mECT started as early as childhood in some cases are unknown. Accordingly, there is a need for alternative forms of chronic stimulation for these patients. To explore the feasibility of deep brain stimulation (DBS) for intractable SIB seen in some patients with an ASD, we utilized two genetically distinct mouse models demonstrating excessive self-grooming, namely the Viaat-Mecp2-/y and Shank3B-/- lines, and administered high-frequency stimulation (HFS) via implanted electrodes at the subthalamic nucleus (STN-HFS). We found that STN-HFS significantly suppressed excessive self-grooming in both genetic lines. Suppression occurs both acutely when stimulation is switched on, and persists for several days after HFS is stopped. This effect was not explained by a change in locomotor activity, which was unaffected by STN-HFS. Likewise, social interaction deficits were not corrected by STN-HFS. Our data show STN-HFS suppresses excessive self-grooming in two autism-like mouse models, raising the possibility DBS might be used to treat intractable SIB associated with ASDs. Further studies are required to explore the circuitry engaged by STN-HFS, as well as other potential stimulation sites. Such studies might also yield clues about pathways, which could be modulated by non-invasive stimulatory techniques.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1813-1821
Number of pages9
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jun 1 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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