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Fragile X, Down syndromes linked to faulty brain communication

STANFORD, Calif. - The two most prevalent forms of genetic mental retardation, Fragile X and Down syndromes, may share a common cause, according to researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine. The problem, a crippled communication network in the brain, may also be associated with autism.

Although the genetics of the disorders are very different, the end result for the brain seems to be the same, said Daniel Madison, PhD, associate professor of molecular and cellular physiology. "It's as if you had every light in your house wired to just one or two switches, rather than having many switches that can be flipped on or off in complex combinations to control the lighting in one room," he said.

Madison is the senior author of a paper on Fragile X syndrome in mice, which will be published in the April 11 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience. He published a related study on mice with Down syndrome symptoms in the Feb. 15 issue of the Journal of Physiology.

Madison is a member of Stanford's Down Syndrome Research Center, started in 2003 by researchers at the School of Medicine and Lucile Packard Children's Hospital to accelerate the application of research to effective treatments for the condition.

In the latest study, Madison and postdoctoral scholar Jesse Hanson, PhD, studied Fragile X syndrome, which is a leading cause of mental retardation in this country. Affected people tend to have learning disabilities, distinct physical characteristics such as enlarged ears and a long face, and such behavioral problems as attention deficit disorder, speech disturbances and unusual responses to various sights or sounds. Although it's not known why, about one-third of people with Fragile X also develop autism - a much higher percentage than in the general population. This makes Fragile X, which can be studied in mice, the only genetic model for autism.

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Contact: Krista Conger
kristac@stanford.edu
650-725-5371
Stanford University Medical Center
10-Apr-2007


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