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

tic activity of PAK. These compounds or versions of them may be useful in the future development of drugs for treating FXS, he said.

"These are intriguing findings because the expression of the gene that inhibits PAK occurs in the third week after birth, which means that the neuronal abnormalities in the fragile X mouse are reversed after they appear," said Eric Klann, a professor at New York University's Center for Neural Science. "This is very exciting because it suggests that PAK inhibitors could be used for therapeutic purposes to reverse already established mental impairments in fragile X children."

Restoring neuronal connections

Tonegawa, Hayashi, MIT graduate student Bridget M. Dolan of the Department of Biology and colleagues study the molecules that govern the formation of neuronal connections in the brain. They explore how abnormalities in these molecules could interfere with an animal's behavior.

In the brain, small protrusions called dendritic spines on the branch-like dendrites of one neuron receive chemical signals from other neurons and communicate them to the main cell body. The numbers and shapes of dendritic spines are key to normal brain function.

FXS patients have higher numbers of dendritic spines in their brains, but each spine is longer and thinner, and transmits weaker electric signals, than those in non-affected individuals. When the enzymatic activity of PAK was inhibited in the FXS mice, abnormalities in their spine number and structure-as well as the weaker electrical communication between their neurons-were reversed.

Reversing behavioral symptoms

The FXS mice exhibited symptoms similar to those in FXS patients. These included hyperactivity; purposeless, repetitive movements reminiscent of autistic people; attention deficits and difficulty with learning and memory tasks.

"These behavioral abnormalities are ameliorated, partially or fully, by inh
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Contact: Patti Richards
prichards@mit.edu
617-253-8923
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
25-Jun-2007


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