Page URL: https://www.bionews.org.uk/page_90015

Mice shed light on autism

4 May 2006
Appeared in BioNews 357

Mice bred to lack a crucial brain gene show many of the characteristics of autism, say US scientists based at the University of Texas. The team created a 'knockout' mouse that is missing a gene called Pten, specifically in areas of the brain associated with learning and memory. The study, reported in the journal Neuron, may shed light on the biological basis of this poorly understood disorder.

Autism - along with several related conditions together known as autistic spectrum disorders - is a lifelong developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of life. The disorder affects social and language skills, and the way in which a child relates to people, objects and events. Autism often runs in families, suggesting that it has a genetic basis, although it is thought that the combined effects of at least ten different genes are involved.

Previous research has linked the Pten gene to some brain disorders, but mice completely missing the gene show a broad range of different symptoms. In the latest study, the scientists created mice that only lack the Pten gene in cells that make up the cerebral cortex and hippocampus areas of the animal's brain - the parts associated with learning and memory respectively. They found that the mice had autistic traits such as poor social interaction and high sensitivity.

The animals were far less curious about new mice entering the cage than their normal littermates. The altered mice also showed the same level of interest in an empty cage as one containing another mouse - a finding that reflects the behaviour of children with autistic spectrum disorders. In addition, they were less likely to build nests or look after their young, and were more sensitive to stressful events such as being picked up, or subjected to loud noises.

Team leader Luis Parada told BBC News Online that 'it would be really exciting if it turned out that we've zeroed in on the anatomical regions where things go wrong in autistic patients, regardless of how the autism occurs'. In an accompanying comment piece, Anthony Wynshaw-Boris and Joy Greer, of the University of California, call the findings 'intriguing', but caution that the research does not provide the complete picture. They say that other features typical of autistic spectrum disorders, such as repetitive behaviour, are not present in the altered mice.

UK autism expert Simon Baron Cohen, of Cambridge University, told BBC News Online that the mouse behaviour mirrored that of a sub-group of people with autistic spectrum disorder, but added that 'social abnormalities in a mouse may be caused by very different factors to human social abnormalities'. He said that further research was needed, to see if the human version of Pten is involved in susceptibility to the condition.

SOURCES & REFERENCES
'Autistic' mice offer gene clue
BBC News Online |  3 May 2006
Mutant mice show key autism traits
EurekaAlert |  3 May 2006
RELATED ARTICLES FROM THE BIONEWS ARCHIVE
21 September 2009 - by Professor Richard Ashcroft 
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is rarely far from the news. ASD is a complex, and as yet poorly understood, pervasive developmental disorder. People with ASD display a triad of impairments in social communication, social interaction, and social imagination (1). The impact of these impairments on children and adults with ASD, and on their families, can vary enormously. However, a common reaction to ASD is fear: fear that my child may develop ASD; fear that my child with ASD will suffer;
29 July 2005 - by BioNews 
In two separate studies, scientists working at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, US have shown that a faulty gene involved in controlling levels of the brain chemical serotonin is linked to an increased risk of autism. The first study, published in the American Journal of Human Genetics, shows that many different...
22 July 2005 - by BioNews 
The identification of a gene involved in autism could lead to a new test for children at risk of developing the condition, French researchers say. The scientists, based at the company IntegraGen SA, have shown that variations in a gene called PRKCB1 are 'strongly associated' with autism. The finding, published...
19 July 2004 - by BioNews 
An international team of 170 scientists has embarked on a search for genes that influence a child's risk of developing autism. The project will study 6000 DNA samples from around 1,200 families affected by the developmental disorder, in order to track down the estimated 15-20 genes thought to be...
5 April 2004 - by BioNews 
Variations in a gene involved in energy production could be linked to autism, US researchers say. A team based at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York studied 720 people from 411 families, who all have either autism, or the related condition autistic disorder. They found that variations...
HAVE YOUR SAY
to add a Comment.

By posting a comment you agree to abide by the BioNews terms and conditions


Syndicate this story - click here to enquire about using this story.