Author ORCID Identifier

Document Type


Date of Award

Spring 4-2024


Autism Spectrum Disorder, ASD, Ethanol, Adult, Rat, Social, Behavior, Neural activity, Neuronal activation

Degree Name

Psychology (BA)



First Advisor

Dr. Marvin. Diaz

Second Advisor

Dr. Lena Varlinskaya

Third Advisor

Dr. David. F. Werner


The prevalency of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in the United States is increasing, with current estimates at 1 in 36 children, over 1 in 46 in 2018. ASD is a neurobiological disorder often characterized by social impairments, and reports suggest individuals with ASD are more likely to use drugs and alcohol to self-medicate. The current study examined patterns of neural activity in vehicle and ethanol-exposed adult rats that were previously exposed to valproic acid in utero, a well-defined ASD-like animal model. We report analyses of neural activity in tissue from transgenic cFos-LacZ rats in which a colorimetric histochemical enzymatic reaction occurred in cells expressing the LacZ gene product, β-galactosidase under the control of a promoter for the immediate-early gene cfos. We report cell counts in subregions of the medial prefrontal cortex, basolateral amygdala, and hippocampus – brain regions strongly related to social dysfunction. We found that in utero valproic acid increased neural activity in the hippocampus independent of ethanol exposure. This finding supports the hypothesis of long-lasting changes in neural activity into adulthood. Further work is needed to evaluate activity in other brain regions related to social interaction.