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Deleting Gene Makes Mice Smarter

Disabling the RGS14 gene in mice improves their ability to learn and remember, according to a study published by Emory University's School of Medicine researchers.

The researchers were surprised to find that, in mice with a disabled RGS14 gene, the CA2 region was now capable of "robust" long-term potentiation, meaning that in response to electrical stimulation, neurons there had stronger connections. On top of that, the ability of the gene-altered mice to recognize objects previously placed in their cages was enhanced, compared to normal mice. They also learned more quickly to navigate through a water maze to a hidden escape platform by remembering visual cues.

"A big question this research raises is why would we, or mice, have a gene that makes us less smart – a Homer Simpson gene?" John Hepler, PhD, professor of pharmacology at Emory University School of Medicine, says. "I believe that we are not really seeing the full picture. RGS14 may be a key control gene in a part of the brain that, when missing or disabled, knocks brain signals important for learning and memory out of balance."

The lack of RGS14 doesn't seem to hurt the altered mice, but it is still possible that they have their brain functions changed in a way that researchers have not yet been able to spot. Besides being resistant to injury by seizure, certain types of CA2 neurons are lost in schizophrenia, and loss of another gene turned on primarily in the CA2 region leads to altered social behaviors,

RGS14, which is also found in humans, was identified more than a decade ago.

Science fiction fans may be reminded of the technique used in the Hugo award-winning short story Flowers for Algernon, published in 1959 in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction by Daniel Keyes. In the story, a lab mouse has undergone a new kind of surgery to increase intelligence. The first human test subject, a mildly retarded man named Charlie, writes a set of brief diary entries that form the story.


(Flowers For Algeron)

Read more at RDMag; thanks to Winchell Chung for prodding me to do this article.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 9/23/2010)

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