Laboratory mouse
Three different groups of researchers have published studies involving autistic mice. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Scientists in three different studies have been able to breed mice that could mimic the symptoms and pathology of autism. The mice were genetically engineered for researchers to better understand autism and possibly find a cure.

Three strains of autistic mice revealed

In medical research, the first step is often laboratory research involving mice. Genetically modified laboratory mice, or “designer mice” as they are often called, are often bred to try to find a cure for genetic disorders and diseases.

In the past 30 days, studies from three different research teams in the United States have published results of experiments that yielded two strains of mice with traits similar to autism. The mice were bred with genetic alterations that increase risks of developing autism.

Abundance or lack of genes

The direct cause of autism isn’t yet known. However, the risk of a child developing autism is known to dramatically rise if certain genes are missing or if extra copies are present.

According to the Daily Mail, researchers at Beth Israel Deaconness Medical Center created mice that had extra copies of the UBe3a. The UBe3a gene, which according to Wikipedia is located on chromosome 15 in humans, can exacerbate autism symptoms if people have extra copies of the gene. Mice were bred with three times the number of UBe3a genes. They exhibited classic signs of autism, such as anti-social behavior and decreased communication skills. The study is being published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

The team in California, according to Fox, bred autistic mice that lacked CNTNAP2, a gene thought to be linked to language. Mutations in the gene are known to increase the risk of autism and epilepsy. The mice were shown to not interact well with peers and, similar to the Boston study, were not as communicative as mice in the control group that had no altered genes. The study appears in the journal Cell.

The search goes on

The Proceedings of the National Academy of the Sciences journal has just published a similar study that began in 2007, according to CBS42 in Birmingham, Ala. Scientists at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory determined that risk factors and signs of autism in children are caused when a gene cluster on chromosome 16, called 16p11.2, is missing one of the two copies that are supposed to be present. The researchers were able to breed mice lacking one copy of 16p11.2, and they displayed signs of autism.

Treatments, as scientists in all studies noted, are still not available as the mice in the studies only confirm what some causes of some cases of autism might be. However, finding out the cause also opens to door to finding ways to treat, reverse or cure the disease.


Daily Mail:





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