CHAPEL HILL, N.C. - The first potential genetically engineered animal model for schizophrenia -- a long-term, disabling mental illness afflicting 1.5 million U.S. residents -- has been created by University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill scientists collaborating with Duke University researchers.
Their achievement promises to boost research into the heartbreaking illness and eventually improve drug therapy and other treatments, the scientists say.
"You can't diagnose mental illness in mice, and so we can't say definitely that these mice actually have schizophrenia," said Dr. Amy R. Mohn, who earned a genetics doctorate at UNC-CH and became a postdoctoral fellow at Duke in January. "We can say, however, that they display behaviors consistent with schizophrenia and should be very useful in studying it."
A report on the research appears in the Aug. 20 issue of the journal Cell. Besides Mohn, a UNC-CH Curriculum in Genetics and Molecular Biology graduate, authors are Drs. Beverly H. Koller, research assistant professor of medicine at the UNC-CH School of Medicine; Marc G. Caron, James B. Duke professor of cell biology at Duke; and Caron's postdoctoral fellow Raul R. Gainetdinov, a visiting Russian scientist.
"What's interesting about this mouse is that we have targeted a neurotransmitter receptor that has been implicated in the disease but has not been the chief focus of schizophrenia research," Mohn said. "Most recent previous research has looked at a transmitter called dopamine, but our paper describes the importance of what's called the NMDA receptor."
NMDA receptors are a subgroup of glutamate receptors known to play critical roles in nerve development and physiology, she said. Neurotransmitters are small molecules that signal nerve cells to fire.
The new genetically engineered mice survive to adulthood and behave
abnormally by repeating various activities such as grooming and interact poorl
Contact: David Williamson
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill