Anxiety is one of the most common symptoms associated with autistic spectrum disorder. The essential oil of Cananga odorata (Lam.) Hook. f. & Thomson, usually known as ylang-ylang oil (YYO), is often used in aromatherapy as a mood-regulating agent, sedative, or hypotensive agent. In the present study, the effects and mechanisms of YYO in alleviating anxiety, social and cognitive behaviors in autism-like rats were investigated.
The prenatal valproic acid (VPA) model was used to induce autism-like behaviors in offspring rats. The effectiveness of prenatal sodium valproate treatment (600 mg/kg) on offspring was shown by postnatal growth observation, and negative geotaxis, olfactory discrimination and Morris water maze (MWM) tests. Then three treatment groups were formed with varying exposure to atomized YYO to explore the effects of YYO on the anxiety, social and cognitive behaviors of the autistic-like offspring through the elevated plus-maze test, three-chamber social test, and MWM test. Finally, the monoamine neurotransmitters, including serotonin, dopamine and their metabolites, in the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex (PFC) of the rats were measured using a high-performance liquid chromatography.
Offspring of VPA exposure rats showed autism-like behaviors. In the VPA offspring, medium-dose YYO exposure significantly elevated the time and entries into the open arms in the elevated plus-maze test, while low-dose YYO exposure significantly enhanced the social interaction time with the stranger rat in session 1 of the three-chamber social test. VPA offspring treated with YYO exposure used less time to reach the platform in the navigation test of the MWM test. YYO exposure significantly elevated the metabolism of serotonin and dopamine in the PFC of VPA offspring.
YYO exposure showed the effects in alleviating anxiety and improving cognitive and social abilities in the offspring of VPA exposure rats. The role of YYO was related to the regulation of the metabolism of serotonin and dopamine.