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Biologists use flies and mice to get to the heart of Down syndrome
Date:11/4/2011

stem with many of the same genes as mice and humans. With help from collaborators Amir Gamliel, Geoff Rosenfeld and Kirk Peterson at the UC San Diego School of Medicine, Rolf Bodmer and Karen Ocorr at the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute, and Julie R. Korenberg at the University of Utah, biologist Tamar Grossman in Bier's lab devised a sequential genetic approach to untangle the problem.

"First, fruit flies were used to test for all possible pairwise genetic interactions between these genes that might disrupt the function of the simple fluid pumping fly heart," said Bier." These comprehensive genetic studies pointed to a particular pair of genes known as DSCAM and COL6A2 that resulted in the most severe defects when over-produced together."

Then the researchers tested the effects of increasing the levels of these genes in the hearts of experimental mice. They first generated genetic lines of mice having elevated activity of each of these genes in the heart and then genetically crossed these mice to create offspring that over-produced both genes together. The parental mice as well as their offspring were then tested for heart function and visible heart defects.

Mice having elevated levels of each gene separately were largely normal. But the offspring with extra levels of both genes suffered from severe cardiac defects. These heart defects were of two kinds. The first resembled one of the salient features of Down syndrome cardiac patients, in which blood shunts between the two atrial chambers of the heart through small holes in a septum that normally isolates these two chambers. The second defect, which is not frequently observed in Down syndrome patients, but is a common and very serious condition in the general population, was a thickening of the heart wallreferred to medically as cardiac hypertrophy.

"Such thickening of the heart wall greatly reduces heart function and can lead to fatal heart attacks, which indeed w
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Contact: Kim McDonald
kmcdonald@ucsd.edu
858-534-7572
University of California - San Diego
Source:Eurekalert

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