Geneticists at Heidelberg University Hospital’s Department of Molecular Human Genetics have used a new mouse model to demonstrate the way a certain genetic mutation is linked to a type of autism in humans and affects brain development and behavior. In the brain of genetically altered mice, the protein FOXP1 is not synthesized, which is also the case for individuals with a certain form of autism. Consequently, after birth the brain structures degenerate that play a key role in perception. The mice also exhibited abnormal behavior that is typical of autism. The new mouse model now allows the molecular mechanisms in which FOXP1 plays a role to be explained and the associated changes in the brain to be better understood.
Autism is a congenital perception and information-processing disorder in the brain that is frequently accompanied by intellectual disability and in rare cases, superior intelligence and special gifts such as photographic memory. The disorder is characterized by limited social interaction, repetitive behavior and language impairment. Furthermore, a wide range of other disturbances can occur. “Today, in addition to the defect in the FOXP1 gene, we are familiar with other genetic mutations that cause autism or increase the risk of this kind of disorder. However, we are only able to understand how they affect the molecular processes in the neurons, brain development and behavior for a few of these mutations,” Rappold said.”While these kinds of results from basic research cannot be directly translated into treatment, they are still quite valuable for the affected individuals or in this case, for their parents and family. For many of them, it is important to be able to specifically put a name to the disorder and understand it. It can make dealing with it easier,” said Professor Gudrun Rappold, Head of the Department of Molecular Human Genetics at Heidelberg University Hospital and senior author of the article. The results have now been published in a preliminary online version in the journalMolecular Psychiatry in cooperation with Miriam Schneider, Institute of Psychopharmacology at the Central Institute of Mental Health in Mannheim, and Dr. Corentin Le Magueresse, German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) and Professor Hannah Monyer, Department of Clinical Neurobiology, Heidelberg University Hospital and DKFZ in Heidelberg.
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