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Gene prevents autism in mice

Written by: Staff
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NEW YORK, May 13 (Reuters) The absence of a gene called Pten in mice results in a condition that is similar to autism in humans, according to a report in the journal Neuron.

The gene is part of a biochemical pathway that has been linked to cancer formation. Therefore, anticancer drugs that target this pathway may also have a role in treating autism.

Dr Luis F Parada from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, and colleagues used various lab techniques to delete Pten in the brains of mice and investigated the effects of the deletion.

Mutant mice exhibited a distinct pattern of behavioral abnormalities reminiscent of autism, the authors report, including defects in social interaction, maternal care, and sexual behavior.

Increased activity in response to sensory stimuli and sporadic seizures were also apparent in mutant mice, the results indicate, but mutant mice performed better than normal mice on a repetitive test of motor coordination.

Lab testing showed that Pten deletion caused changes in the structure of nerve cells.

While the findings are certainly provocative, ''it should be emphasised that it is a mouse model and that the relationship between mouse behaviours and human behaviors is very difficult to establish,'' Parada told Reuters Health.

Whether or not the findings have direct relevance to autism, ''the experimental results described are intriguing and represent an important entry point to understanding the role of Pten in ''mature nerve cells of the brain and how it relates to behavioral disorders, note Dr. Joy M Greer and Dr. Anthony Wynshaw-Boris from the University of California San Diego School of Medicine, La Jolla, in a related commentary.

REUTERS SI ND0950

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