Published by Journal of Comparative Psychology
Species of solitary mammals are known to exhibit specialized, neurological adaptations that prepare them to focus working memory on food procurement and survival rather than on social interaction. Solitary and nonmonogamous mammals, which do not form strong social bonds, have been documented to exhibit behaviors and biomarkers that are similar to endophenotypes in autism. Both individuals on the autism spectrum and certain solitary mammals have been reported to be low on measures of affiliative need, bodily expressiveness, bonding and attachment, direct and shared gazing, emotional engagement, conspecific recognition, partner preference, separation distress, and social approach behavior.
Solitary mammals also exhibit certain biomarkers that are characteristic of autism, including diminished oxytocin and vasopressin signaling, dysregulation of the endogenous opioid system, increased Hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA) activity to social encounters, and reduced HPA activity to separation and isolation. The extent of these similarities suggests that solitary mammals may offer a useful model of autism spectrum disorders and an opportunity for investigating genetic and epigenetic etiological factors. If the brain in autism can be shown to exhibit distinct homologous or homoplastic similarities to the brains of solitary animals, it will reveal that they may be central to the phenotype and should be targeted for further investigation. Research of the neurological, cellular, and molecular basis of these specializations in other mammals may provide insight for behavioral analysis, communication intervention, and psychopharmacology for autism.