Scientists have altered the brain chemistry of mice by genetically modifying an enzyme. This alteration turned ordinary mice into animals with less anxiety, possibly providing a new treatment for cognitive disorders such as schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s disease. These super mice also learned faster, had better memory retention and solved complex problems faster than ordinary mice.
What the Enzyme Did to the Mice
The enzyme, known as phosphodiesterase-4B, exists in several organs of the bodies of vertebrates, including the brain. Researchers at the University of Leeds inhibited the activity of PDE4B and watched what happened. The intelligent mice learned faster, such as when they had to determine the location of a secret escape hatch in a water maze, according to International Business Times.
Lowering this enzyme’s level seemed to reduce the level of fear in super mice. The altered rodents spent more time in the open as compare to their normal fellows. The intelligent mice also appeared to be less afraid of cats by showing a decreased fear response to cat urine. Scientists believe this type of alteration could prove fatal in wild mice.
What This Means for Humans
Researchers believe these findings could help doctors looking to treat symptoms of PTSD and pathological fears such as phobias. The authors concluded this enzyme inhibition presents a possible therapeutic approach to help cure cognitive and anxiety disorders. This type of therapy could also reduce pathological fear due to memories of traumatic events in humans.
The next step consists of developing drugs that inhibit this enzyme so researchers can test them on animals further to determine if this type of therapy could work on humans during clinical trials. Researchers note the ultimate goal revolves around improving the quality of life of people who have life-impairing fears, cognitive disabilities and paralyzing mental disorders.
What Scientists Said
Lead author Dr. Steve Clapcote said, “Cognitive impairments are currently poorly treated,” so this breakthrough shows promise for possible new treatments moving forward. Dr. Alexander McGirr said the drugs may have a “time-limited role” after traumatic events, states NDTV. This means any drugs would not have lasting effects, and the drugs may have to be taken in perpetuity to maintain the enzyme inhibition.
Scientists also note the role of PDE4B in the formation of Alzheimer’s disease, says the journal Neuropsychopharmacology. Levels of PDE4B directly affect Alzheimer’s disease, and doctors feel this gene is a risk factor for developing the disease later in life. This class of enzymes regulate brain functions relevant to learning, memory and higher cognitive functions. PDE4B also helps form the hippocampus, a portion of the brain responsible for emotion, memory and the autonomic nervous system. Inhibiting this enzyme creates super-intelligent mice as well.
Other Super Mice
This experiment is not the first time scientists created super mice. In 2014, scientists published a study during which mice were given genes found in human brains. These human-based brain genes increased the intelligence of mice, according to Huffington Post. Foxp2, much like PDE4B, forms in rodents and humans. When mice were given the human version of Foxp2, they navigated mazes significantly faster than unaltered mice.
Scientists in the older study simply wanted to understand the effects of Foxp2 better. What they found was that super mice using visual and sensory cues solved a maze in eight days compared to 12 days for ordinary mice. In other words, researchers believe the human version of Foxp2 allowed mice to become better at sensing their immediate environment. This extra cognition helped them find food at the end of the maze faster.
Mice solving mazes faster may seem like a minor accomplishment, but these experiments could lead to breakthrough medications and therapies for cognitive dysfunction in the future. These important scientific investigations can help people lead better lives by improving brain function at many levels, including when cognitive decline starts to set in during older years.Whizzco