Scientists at the National Institutes of Health have discovered the first known genetic mutation in mice. It improves cognitive flexibility—the ability to adapt to changing situations. The gene, KCND2, codes for a protein that regulates potassium channels. But, this also controls electrical signals which travel along neurons. The electrical signals stimulate chemical receptors that jump amongst neurons. The researchers are led by Dax Hoffman, Ph.D., chief of the Section on Neurophysiology at NIH’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD). It appears in Nature Communications.
— nichd_nih (@NICHD_NIH) March 27, 2020
The KCND2 protein, when modified by an enzyme, slows the generation of electrical impulses in neurons. The researchers found that altering a single base pair in the KCND2 gene enhanced the ability of the protein to dampen nerve impulses. Mice with this mutation performed better than mice without the mutation in a cognitive task. The task involved finding and swimming to a slightly submerged platform that had been moved to a new location. Mice with the mutation found the relocated platform much faster than their counterparts without the mutation.
The researchers plan to investigate whether the mutation will affect neural networks in the animals’ brains. They added that studying the gene and its protein may ultimately lead to insights on the nature of cognitive flexibility in people. It also may help improve understanding of autism, Fragile X syndrome, epilepsy, schizophrenia, and spectrum disorder, which all have been associated with other mutations in KCND2.
This research on genetic mutation found a possible cure for autism. Research studies are going on still. But the mice might just have cured a troublesome disease for humanity.