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Clue to genetic cause of fatal birth defect
Date:10/9/2008

A novel enzyme may play a major role in anencephaly, offering hope for a genetic test or even therapy for the rare fatal birth defect in which the brain fails to develop, according to a study from researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine.

The study appears in the October issue of the journal of Molecular Endocrinology.

In the U.S., 1,000 to 2,000 children are born with anencephaly each year. Most do not survive more than a day or two. Although anencephaly can sometimes be diagnosed through ultrasound, which picks up the malformation of the head, there is no genetic test, and its cause is unknown.

By breeding special "knockout" mice that were missing the gene for the enzyme called HSD17b7, UIC researchers found that such mice died on the tenth day of gestation with the severe lack of brain development that characterizes the human birth defect.

The failure of the mice to develop, as well as the extreme nature of the changes in the formation of the animals, was very surprising, said Geula Gibori, UIC distinguished professor of physiology and biophysics and principal investigator of the study. Mice that lack enzymes of similar function are born with subtle changes in their cognitive ability, but they survive.

The UIC researchers had previously discovered this novel enzyme and were focused on its role in converting the weak hormone estrogen into the more potent estradiol in the ovaries and its possible role in breast cancer.

Recent research has shown that the HSD17b7 enzyme has an additional role in the last steps of cholesterol biosynthesis. But because the fetus receives cholesterol from the mother during gestation, Gibori and her colleagues did not expect the enzyme to be of much importance to development, she said.

However, it appears that as the fetal mouse brain develops it forms a blood barrier, blocking maternal cholesterol from brain cells. The brain bec
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Contact: Jeanne Galatzer-Levy
jgala@uic.edu
312-996-1583
University of Illinois at Chicago
Source:Eurekalert

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