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Publication Date


First Advisor

Annaliese Beery

Document Type

Honors Project

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts




Folic acid, Gestation, Behavior, Maternal care, Dietary supplements, Social behavior


Folic acid (FA) is most commonly known as a crucial ingredient in prenatal vitamins, because sufficient levels are shown to definitively decrease the rate of spina bifida and other neural tube defects during pregnancy. In recent years, dietary consumption of FA in the United States and other countries has increased, due to the mandatory fortification of grain products, and an increased dosage in supplements recommended to pregnant women. However, the consequences of high levels of FA and its effects on behavior, physiology, and the epigenome of developing offspring are still unknown. To understand the benefits and possible risks of this change in maternal folic acid exposure on offspring, it is necessary to study the effects of both excessive and deficient levels of gestational folic acid exposure. While some epidemiological research has linked FA to an increased risk of developing Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), other studies have proposed that it may have a neuroprotective effect against the development of ASD.

The present study analyzed the effect of low, control, and high folic acid exposure during gestation on later behavioral changes. Both excessive and deficient levels of folic acid led to an increase in aggressive behavior in Long Evans rats. Rats exposed to the high FA diet and rats exposed to the low FA diet both showed an increased amount of time engaging in play fighting behavior, and an increased number of defensive tactics in a juvenile play behavior test. During the course of the study, some rats were unexpectedly injured by their cage mates (and were subsequently separated into divided cages). Analysis of injury frequency revealed that the low folic acid group obtained a greater number of injuries than the control and the high FA group. No significant effect of gestational folic acid was found on anxiety behaviors, or on adult sociability tests.

These results suggest that there may be an effect of both deficient and excessive levels of gestational folic acid on offspring aggressive behaviors, though not on the anticipated social behavior measures. These results suggest that more research is needed on the potential consequences of both over-and under-supplementation.


©2019 Natalie Simone Bourdon. Access limited to the Smith College community and other researchers while on campus. Smith College community members also may access from off-campus using a Smith College log-in. Other off-campus researchers may request a copy through Interlibrary Loan for personal use.




68 pages : color illustrations. Includes bibliographical references (pages 62-68)