Researchers at the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory at MIT report in the Feb. 13 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience that mice genetically engineered to lack a key protein used for building synapses-the junctions through which brain cells communicate-actually learned a spatial memory task faster and better than normal mice. But when tested weeks later, they couldn't remember what they had learned as well as normal mice, and they had trouble remembering contexts that should have provoked fear.
"These opposite effects on different types of learning are reminiscent of the mixed features of autistic patients, who may be disabled in some cognitive areas but show enhanced abilities in others," said Albert Y. Hung, a postdoctoral associate at the Picower Institute, staff neurologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and co-author of the study. "The superior learning ability of these mutant mice in a specific realm is reminiscent of human autistic savants."
Autism is one of a group of developmental disabilities known as autism spectrum disorders (ASDs), in which a person's ability to communicate and interact with others is impaired. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that one in 150 American children has an ASD. Occasionally, an autistic person has an outstanding skill, such as an incredible rote memory or musical ability. Such individuals-like the character Dustin Hoffman played in the film Rain Man-may be referred to as autistic savants.
Hung said that while it seems counterintuitive that loss of an important synaptic scaffold protein would result in improved learning among the mice in this study, the absence of this protein may "trap" the mice's synapses in a more plastic state, which means the synapses are ready to respond to input but not maintain it in long-term memory.
Aberrant synapse development and faulty structure of dendritic spines-tiny protrusions on the surface of neurons that receive messages from other neurons-are often associated with neurodevelopmental disorders, including autism, in humans.Hung; Morgan H. Sheng, MIT's Menicon Professor of Neuroscience; and colleagues investigated the role in brain development and cognitive function of a protein called Shank1. Shank1 is one member of a family of proteins that act as structural scaffolds linking together different components of the synapse. In humans, mutations in the closely related protein Shank3 have been linked to the autism spectrum of disorders characterized by impaired social interaction, absent or delayed language development and repetitive behaviors.
In addition to Hung and Sheng, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) investigator, MIT authors are Picower Institute research scientist Kensuke Futai; MIT biology graduate student Jubin Ryu; MIT biology undergraduate Mollie A. Woodworth, Picower Institute postdoctoral fellow Fleur L. Kidd; Picower Institute research assistant Clifford Sung; and Mark F. Bear, Picower Professor of Neuroscience, HHMI investigator and director of the Picower Institute. Additional authors are from the University of Milan, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Fujita Health University in Japan.
This work was supported by the RIKEN-MIT Neuroscience Research Center, the National Institutes of Health and HHMI.
Written by Deborah Halber, Picower Institute for Learning and Memory at MIT
Elizabeth A. Thomson | MIT News Office
The birth of a new protein
20.10.2017 | University of Arizona
Building New Moss Factories
20.10.2017 | Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg im Breisgau
University of Maryland researchers contribute to historic detection of gravitational waves and light created by event
On August 17, 2017, at 12:41:04 UTC, scientists made the first direct observation of a merger between two neutron stars--the dense, collapsed cores that remain...
Seven new papers describe the first-ever detection of light from a gravitational wave source. The event, caused by two neutron stars colliding and merging together, was dubbed GW170817 because it sent ripples through space-time that reached Earth on 2017 August 17. Around the world, hundreds of excited astronomers mobilized quickly and were able to observe the event using numerous telescopes, providing a wealth of new data.
Previous detections of gravitational waves have all involved the merger of two black holes, a feat that won the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics earlier this month....
Material defects in end products can quickly result in failures in many areas of industry, and have a massive impact on the safe use of their products. This is why, in the field of quality assurance, intelligent, nondestructive sensor systems play a key role. They allow testing components and parts in a rapid and cost-efficient manner without destroying the actual product or changing its surface. Experts from the Fraunhofer IZFP in Saarbrücken will be presenting two exhibits at the Blechexpo in Stuttgart from 7–10 November 2017 that allow fast, reliable, and automated characterization of materials and detection of defects (Hall 5, Booth 5306).
When quality testing uses time-consuming destructive test methods, it can result in enormous costs due to damaging or destroying the products. And given that...
Using a new cooling technique MPQ scientists succeed at observing collisions in a dense beam of cold and slow dipolar molecules.
How do chemical reactions proceed at extremely low temperatures? The answer requires the investigation of molecular samples that are cold, dense, and slow at...
Scientists from the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics, using high precision laser spectroscopy of atomic hydrogen, confirm the surprisingly small value of the proton radius determined from muonic hydrogen.
It was one of the breakthroughs of the year 2010: Laser spectroscopy of muonic hydrogen resulted in a value for the proton charge radius that was significantly...
17.10.2017 | Event News
10.10.2017 | Event News
10.10.2017 | Event News
20.10.2017 | Information Technology
20.10.2017 | Materials Sciences
20.10.2017 | Interdisciplinary Research