Scientists in Bangalore and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), USA, have reversed major symptoms of mental retardation and autism in mice.
The breakthrough makes headway in the faster development of drugs to treat these disorders, that impair social and learning skills.
With MIT’s Picower Institute for Learning and Memory, the team corrected many symptoms of Fragile X syndrome — the most common inherited cause of mental retardation and autism — in mice engineered to have the same symptoms as humans with the syndrome.
The results were published in the international journal Neuron this week.
The researchers used genetic engineering to treat mice by manipulating a single brain protein, but future drugs could accomplish this effect too. Currently, there is no sure cure available. “Several drugs to treat Fragile X syndrome that are being developed in the US, target the brain receptor our study focused on,’’ neuroscientist Sumantra Chattarji of the National Centre for Biological Sciences, Bangalore, told HT. “Now the time scale for developing better drugs could be just two years.’’ Many of the syndrome’s symptoms like learning disabilities and childhood epilepsy stem from over activation of one of the brain’s chief network managers. Reducing its activation by half, fixed multiple defects in the mice, like restoring normal body growth and reducing seizures.
“Insights from this study suggest novel therapeutic approaches, not only for Fragile X but also for autism and mental retardation of unknown origin,” said Mark Bear, Director of the Picower Institute, in a statement. The team included B. S. Shankaranarayna Rao of the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuroscience.
Chattarji’s team is now experimenting on treating emotional symptoms of autism in mice, using potential drugs. Just last month, Indian-origin researcher Vivek Rangnekar said his team in the UK had created mice resistant to aggressive types of cancer.