A team of researchers headed by Douglas R. Cavener, professor and head of the Department of Biology at Penn State University, has announced important findings about the causes of three human diseases: severe, juvenile-onset diabetes; osteoporosis; and Wolcott-Rallison Syndrome, a rare condition whose sufferers exhibit a combination of diabetes, retarded growth, and skeletal abnormalities. Their work suggests promising lines of research for the therapeutic treatment of these diseases. The work will be described in an article in the August 2003 issue of the journal Endocrinology.
Three mice that are littermates (siblings of the same age). The two mice on the left (one partially hiding under the big mouse) are dwarf mice caused by the Perk mutation. They are less than half the size of the mouse on the right, which is normal.
Micro x-ray computed tomography (microCT) images of the tibia of normal and Perk mutant mice. The mutant shows thin cortical bone with deformations and gaping holes. "If it wasnt for muscle and connective tissue to hold these fragile bones together, these mice would fall apart," Cavener says.
Over several years, Caveners team has developed and investigated a particular strain of "knockout" mice that are genetically unable to produce the enzyme PERK (pancreatic endoplasmic reticulum kinase). Cavener and his team hypothesize that the PERK enzyme is a specific or global regulator of protein synthesis, which means that the knockout mice are especially useful in unraveling complex physiological and developmental processes. "We are now able to investigate what happens when a particular gene is missing, to see what functions go wrong. Then we work backwards to fill in mechanisms that link the genotype to the phenotype" or the observable outcome, Cavener says.
PERK knockout mice have a very low survival rate because the biomedical problems caused by the absence of the PERK enzyme are so severe. Fully 63 percent die during gestation or the first few days of life which can be traced to failures in the creation or delivery of specific proteins.
Barbara K. Kennedy | EurekAlert!
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