By injecting a customized "genetic patch" into early stage fish embryos, researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis were able to correct a genetic mutation so the embryos developed normally.
The research could lead to the prevention of up to one-fifth of birth defects in humans caused by genetic mutations, according to the authors.
Erik C. Madsen, first author and an M.D./Ph.D. student in the Medical Scientist Training Program at Washington University School of Medicine, made the groundbreaking discovery using a zebrafish model of Menkes disease, a rare, inherited disorder of copper metabolism caused by a mutation in the human version of the ATP7A gene. Zebrafish are vertebrates that develop similarly to humans, and their transparency allows researchers to observe embryonic development.
Children who have Menkes disease have seizures, extensive neurodegeneration in the gray matter of the brain, abnormal bone development and kinky, colorless hair. Most children with Menkes die before age 10, and treatment with copper is largely ineffective.
The research is published this month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences' advance online edition.
The development of organs in the fetus is nearly complete at a very early stage. By that time, the mutation causing Menkes disease has already affected brain and nerve development.
Madsen and Bryce Mendelsohn, also an M.D./Ph.D. student at the School of Medicine, wondered if they could prevent the Menkes-like disease in zebrafish by correcting genetic mutations that impair copper metabolism during the brief period in which organs develop. Both students work in the lab of Jonathan D. Gitlin, M.D., the Helene B. Roberson Professor of Pediatrics at the School of Medicine and director of Genetics and Genomic Medicine at St. Louis Children's Hospital.
The researchers used zebrafish with two different mutations in the ATP7A gene,
|Contact: Beth Miller|
Washington University School of Medicine