Front Cell Neurosci. 2023 Nov 8;17:1270489. doi: 10.3389/fncel.2023.1270489. eCollection 2023.
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a complex neurodevelopmental disorder with increasing prevalence. Over 1,000 risk genes have now been implicated in ASD, suggesting diverse etiology. However, the diagnostic criteria for the disorder still comprise two major behavioral domains – deficits in social communication and interaction, and the presence of restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior (RRBs). The RRBs associated with ASD include both stereotyped repetitive movements and other motor manifestations including changes in gait, balance, coordination, and motor skill learning. In recent years, the striatum, the primary input center of the basal ganglia, has been implicated in these ASD-associated motor behaviors, due to the striatum’s role in action selection, motor learning, and habit formation. Numerous mouse models with mutations in ASD risk genes have been developed and shown to have alterations in ASD-relevant behaviors. One commonly used assay, the accelerating rotarod, allows for assessment of both basic motor coordination and motor skill learning. In this corticostriatal-dependent task, mice walk on a rotating rod that gradually increases in speed. In the extended version of this task, mice engage striatal-dependent learning mechanisms to optimize their motor routine and stay on the rod for longer periods. This review summarizes the findings of studies examining rotarod performance across a range of ASD mouse models, and the resulting implications for the involvement of striatal circuits in ASD-related motor behaviors. While performance in this task is not uniform across mouse models, there is a cohort of models that show increased rotarod performance. A growing number of studies suggest that this increased propensity to learn a fixed motor routine may reflect a common enhancement of corticostriatal drive across a subset of mice with mutations in ASD-risk genes.