Ketogenic diets improve behaviors associated with autism spectrum disorder in a sex-specific manner in the EL mouse.
Physiol Behav. 2017 Jan 1 ;168:138-145. Epub 2016 Nov 9. PMID: 27836684
David N Ruskin
The core symptoms of autism spectrum disorder are poorly treated with current medications. Symptoms of autism spectrum disorder are frequently comorbid with a diagnosis of epilepsy and vice versa. Medically-supervised ketogenic diets are remarkably effective nonpharmacological treatments for epilepsy, even in drug-refractory cases. There is accumulating evidence that supports the efficacy of ketogenic diets in treating the core symptoms of autism spectrum disorders in animal models as well as limited reports of benefits in patients. This study tests the behavioral effects of ketogenic diet feeding in the EL mouse, a model with behavioral characteristics of autism spectrum disorder and comorbid epilepsy. Male and female EL mice were fed control diet or one of two ketogenic diet formulas ad libitum starting at 5weeks of age. Beginning at 8weeks of age, diet protocols continued and performance of each group on tests of sociability and repetitive behavior was assessed. A ketogenic diet improved behavioral characteristics of autism spectrum disorder in a sex- and test-specific manner; ketogenic diet never worsened relevant behaviors. Ketogenic diet feeding improved multiple measures of sociability and reduced repetitive behavior in female mice, with limited effects in males. Additional experiments in female mice showed that a less strict, more clinically-relevant diet formula was equally effective in improving sociability and reducing repetitive behavior. Taken together these results add to the growing number of studies suggesting that ketogenic and related diets may provide significant relief from the core symptoms of autism spectrum disorder, and suggest that in some cases there may be increased efficacy in females.