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MIT researchers reverse symptoms in mice of leading inherited cause of mental retardation

CAMBRIDGE, Mass.--Researchers at the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory at MIT have, for the first time, reversed symptoms of mental retardation and autism in mice.

The work will be reported in the online early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences the week of June 25-29.

The mice were genetically manipulated to model Fragile X Syndrome (FXS), the leading inherited cause of mental retardation and the most common genetic cause of autism. The condition, tied to a mutated X chromosome gene called fragile X mental retardation 1 (FMR1) gene, causes mild learning disabilities to severe autism.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, FXS affects one in 4,000 males and one in 6,000 females of all races and ethnic groups. The prevalence of autism ranges from one in 500 to one in 166 children. There is no effective treatment for FXS and other types of autism.

"Our study suggests that inhibiting a certain enzyme in the brain could be an effective therapy for countering the debilitating symptoms of FXS in children, and possibly in autistic kids as well," said co-author Mansuo L. Hayashi, a former Picower Institute postdoctoral fellow currently at Merck Research Laboratories in Boston.

The study identifies a key enzyme-a chemical reaction-inducing protein-as a possible target for an FXS drug. The enzyme, called p21-activated kinase, or PAK, affects the number, size and shape of connections between neurons in the brain.

Halting PAK's enzymatic activity reversed the structural abnormality of neuronal connections found in the FXS mice, said co-author Susumu Tonegawa, 1987 Nobel laureate and Picower Professor of Biology and Neuroscience. "Strikingly, PAK inhibition also restored electrical communication between neurons in the brains of the FXS mice, correcting their behavioral abnormalities in the process," he said.

There are known chemical compounds that inhibit the enzyma
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Contact: Patti Richards
prichards@mit.edu
617-253-8923
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
25-Jun-2007


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