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Environment and exercise may affect research results, UA study shows

A recently completed study at The University of Arizona may have implications for the thousands of scientists worldwide who use knockout mice in their research.

In the study, Knockout Mice: Is it Just Genetics? Effects of Enriched Housing on Fibulin-4+/- Mice, lead researcher Ann Baldwin, PhD, suggests that environmental factors may play a large part in research findings that investigators assume are due simply to genetic differences. Further, the study research indicates that appropriate environments may counteract the effects of some genetic deficiencies.

The knockout technique is used widely by researchers to aid in understanding physiological functions at the cellular and molecular level. Essentially, it eliminates one or both copies of a gene that produces a specific protein or enzyme.

Dr. Baldwin, a professor of physiology and psychology at the UA College of Medicine, developed a study focusing on mice with only one copy of a gene that encodes for an extracellular matrix protein, fibulin-4. The extracellular matrix, often referred to as connective tissue, supports tissue cells. Fibulin-4 is localized in the aortic media and is essential for maintaining arterial integrity. Dr. Baldwin wanted to determine whether these mice, known as heterozygous fibulin-4 knockout mice, showed arterial defects on a microscopic scale, although outwardly they appeared to be normal.

Using high-powered electron microscopy, she found small areas of disorganized tissue, referred to as gaps, in the aortas of the heterozygous fibulin-4 knockout mice. The number of gaps found in the knockout mice was approximately 100 times greater than those found in the control, or wild-type, mice.

After preliminary experiments were performed, a second purpose for the study developed, and the researchers set about investigating a hypothesis that the pathologies they observed would be ameliorated by enriched housing conditions.

In the initi
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Contact: Dr. Ann Baldwin
abaldwin@email.arizona.edu
520-626-6264
Public Library of Science
20-Feb-2007


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