The researchers also report that a drug affecting a specific type of nerve function reduced the obsessive behavior in the animals, suggesting a potential way to treat repetitive behaviors in humans. The findings appear in the Feb. 24 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience.
“Clinically, this study highlights the possibility that some autism-related behaviors can be reversed through drugs targeting specific brain function abnormalities,” said Dr. Craig Powell, assistant professor of neurology and psychiatry at UT Southwestern and the study’s senior author.
“Understanding one abnormality that can lead to increased, repetitive motor behavior is not only important for autism, but also potentially for obsessive-compulsive disorder, compulsive hair-pulling and other disorders of excessive activity,” Dr. Powell said.
The study focused on a protein called neuroligin 1, or NL1, which helps physically hold nerve cells together so they can communicate better with one another. Mutations in proteins related to NL1 have been implicated in previous investigations to human autism and mental retardation.
In the latest study, the UT Southwestern researchers studied mice that had been genetically engineered to lack NL1. These mice were normal in many ways, but they groomed themselves excessively and were not as good at learning a maze as normal mice.
The altered mice showed weakened nerve signaling in a part of the brain called the hippocampus, which is involved in learning and memory, and in another brain region involved in grooming.
When treated with a drug called D-cycloserine, which activates nerves in those brain regions, the excessive grooming lessened.
“Our goal was not to make an ‘autistic mouse’ but rather to understand better how autism-related genes might alter brain function that leads to behavioral abnormalities,” Dr. Powell said. “By studying mice that lack neuroligin-1, we hope to understand better how this molecule affects communication between neurons and how that altered communication affects behavior.
“This study is important because we were able to link the altered neuronal communication to behavioral effects using a specific drug to ‘treat’ the behavioral abnormality.”
Future studies, Dr. Powell said, will focus on understanding in more detail how NL1 operates in nerve cells.
Other UT Southwestern researchers participating in the study were co-lead authors Jacqueline Blundell, former postdoctoral researcher in neurology, and Dr. Cory Blaiss, postdoctoral researcher in neurology; Felipe Espinosa, senior research scientist in neurology; and graduate student Christopher Walz.
Researchers at Stanford University also contributed to this work.
The research was supported by Autism Speaks, the Simons Foundation, the National Institute of Mental Health, BRAINS for Autism, and the Hartwell Foundation.
Visit http://www.utsouthwestern.org/pediatrics to learn more about clinical services in pediatrics, including neurology, at UT Southwestern. Visit http://www.utsouthwestern.org/mentalhealth to learn more about UT Southwestern’s clinical services in psychiatry.
Rainbow colors reveal cell history: Uncovering β-cell heterogeneity
22.09.2017 | DFG-Forschungszentrum für Regenerative Therapien TU Dresden
The pyrenoid is a carbon-fixing liquid droplet
22.09.2017 | Max-Planck-Institut für Biochemie
Plants and algae use the enzyme Rubisco to fix carbon dioxide, removing it from the atmosphere and converting it into biomass. Algae have figured out a way to increase the efficiency of carbon fixation. They gather most of their Rubisco into a ball-shaped microcompartment called the pyrenoid, which they flood with a high local concentration of carbon dioxide. A team of scientists at Princeton University, the Carnegie Institution for Science, Stanford University and the Max Plank Institute of Biochemistry have unravelled the mysteries of how the pyrenoid is assembled. These insights can help to engineer crops that remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere while producing more food.
A warming planet
Our brains house extremely complex neuronal circuits, whose detailed structures are still largely unknown. This is especially true for the so-called cerebral cortex of mammals, where among other things vision, thoughts or spatial orientation are being computed. Here the rules by which nerve cells are connected to each other are only partly understood. A team of scientists around Moritz Helmstaedter at the Frankfiurt Max Planck Institute for Brain Research and Helene Schmidt (Humboldt University in Berlin) have now discovered a surprisingly precise nerve cell connectivity pattern in the part of the cerebral cortex that is responsible for orienting the individual animal or human in space.
The researchers report online in Nature (Schmidt et al., 2017. Axonal synapse sorting in medial entorhinal cortex, DOI: 10.1038/nature24005) that synapses in...
Whispering gallery mode (WGM) resonators are used to make tiny micro-lasers, sensors, switches, routers and other devices. These tiny structures rely on a...
Using ultrafast flashes of laser and x-ray radiation, scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics (Garching, Germany) took snapshots of the briefest electron motion inside a solid material to date. The electron motion lasted only 750 billionths of the billionth of a second before it fainted, setting a new record of human capability to capture ultrafast processes inside solids!
When x-rays shine onto solid materials or large molecules, an electron is pushed away from its original place near the nucleus of the atom, leaving a hole...
For the first time, physicists have successfully imaged spiral magnetic ordering in a multiferroic material. These materials are considered highly promising candidates for future data storage media. The researchers were able to prove their findings using unique quantum sensors that were developed at Basel University and that can analyze electromagnetic fields on the nanometer scale. The results – obtained by scientists from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics, the Swiss Nanoscience Institute, the University of Montpellier and several laboratories from University Paris-Saclay – were recently published in the journal Nature.
Multiferroics are materials that simultaneously react to electric and magnetic fields. These two properties are rarely found together, and their combined...
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