Mice with mohawks may give clues to autism, or at least that is what scientists studying mice with a genetic mutation that is linked to autism are saying.
The mohawks are actually formed by the mice repeatedly licking their neighbor’s hair in a way that results in that hairstyle. This behavior deeply resembles certain repetitive behaviors that patients with autism have. The experiment with the mice can give researchers clues as to the genetic causes of the disease, and may eventually lead to a cure.
“Our study tells us that to design better tools for treating a disease like autism, you have to get to the underlying genetic roots of its dysfunctional behaviors, whether it is over-grooming in mice or repetitive motor behaviors in humans,” researcher Gordon Fishell, a neuroscientist at NYU Langone Medical Center, said in a statement.
One of the more visible effects of autism is the engagement of repetitive behaviors. Patients with autism might constantly flap their hands or rock back and forth. Because autism leads to a wide array of developmental impairments, both social skills and communication skills may become defective, leading to the use of repetitive behaviors.
In the study with the mice with mohawks, researches bred mice that lacked the gene of a certain protein – Cntnap4. Normally found in brain cells, low doses of the protein can lead to abnormal releases of two brain-signaling molecules – dopamine and GABA. Dopamine is involved in feeling pleasure, while GABA regulates muscle tone and lowers neural activity.
“There have been many candidate genes implicated in contributing to autism, but animal and human studies to identify their action have so far not led to any therapies,” Fishell said in the statement. “Our research suggests that reversing the disease’s effects in signaling pathways like GABA and dopamine are potential treatment options,” he said.
While the research did not show any definitive answers, it does bring us one step closer to finally finding a cure to autism. Hopefully, the results with the mohawk-making mice will lead to some positive outcomes in the near future.