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.
Gene therapy shows promise for treating Niemann-Pick disease type C1
27.10.2016 | NIH/National Human Genome Research Institute
'Neighbor maps' reveal the genome's 3-D shape
27.10.2016 | International School of Advanced Studies (SISSA)
Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.
This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...
Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion
Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...
Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.
"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...
In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.
A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...
By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.
"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...
14.10.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
12.10.2016 | Event News
27.10.2016 | Materials Sciences
27.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy
27.10.2016 | Life Sciences