Perinatal hypothyroidism causes long-lasting effects on behavior, including hyperactivity, cognitive delays/deficits, and a reduction in anxiety. Although there is some evidence that hypothyroidism during fetal development in humans has been associated with later autism spectrum disorder diagnosis or autism-like traits, the relationships between early thyroid hormones and social behaviors are largely unknown. Previously, we found that a moderate dose of the hypothyroid-inducing drug methimazole during embryonic and postnatal development dramatically increased juvenile play in male and female rats. The goal of the current study was to determine the extent to which thyroid hormones act in prenatal or postnatal development to organize later social behaviors. Subjects were exposed to methimazole in the drinking water during prenatal (embryonic day 12 to birth), postnatal (birth to postnatal day 23), or pre- and postnatal development; control animals received regular drinking water throughout the experiment. They were tested for play behavior as juveniles (P30-32). We found an interaction between pre- and postnatal methimazole administration such that postnatal hypothyroidism decreased some play behaviors, whereas sustained pre- and postnatal hypothyroidism restored play to control levels. The effects were similar in males and females. To our knowledge, this is the first report of an interaction between pre- and postnatal hypothyroidism on later behavior. The complexity of the timing of these effects may help explain why epidemiological studies have not consistently found a relationship between gestational hypothyroidism and later behavior.
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