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Gene gives clues to self-injurious behavior in rare disorder
Date:7/27/2011

In humans, inherited mutations in a gene called HPRT1 lead to very specific self-destructive behavior. Boys with Lesch-Nyhan disease experience uncontrollable urges to bite their fingers, slam their arms into doorways and otherwise harm themselves.

Puzzlingly, mice with mutations in the same gene don't behave differently than normal mice. Researchers at Emory University School of Medicine have identified a gene related to HPRT1, present in humans but not in mice that helps explain this discrepancy.

The results were published this week by the journal PLoS One.

Mice missing HPRT1 and engineered with a copy of the related human gene, called PRTFDC1, are more aggressive and, under the influence of amphetamines, display repetitive behavior resembling nail biting.

"Other strains of mice don't do this, even under the influence of amphetamines," says first author Alaine Keebaugh, an Emory postdoctoral fellow. "It's not exactly the same as the finger-biting seen in Lesch-Nyhan patients, but they're close enough that we think it provides some insight into the biology. It suggests that PRTFDC1 could be a target for treating the disease."

Keebaugh began researching HPRT1 and PRTFDC1 while a graduate student in the laboratory of James Thomas, PhD, former assistant professor of human genetics at Emory University School of Medicine. The co-first author is Emory postdoctoral fellow Heather Mitchell.

HPRT1 was the first gene to be "knocked out" when scientists were first developing the technique in the 1980s, an accomplishment that earned Mario Capecchi and Oliver Smithies the Nobel Prize in Medicine.

"HPRT1 has a special place in the history of genetics because of this," Keebaugh says. "It also shows that knockout mice don't always exactly parallel human disease."

The HPRT1 gene is located on the X chromosome. Males are vulnerable to Lesch-Nyhan disease (and other X-linked disorders) because they h
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Contact: Holly Korschun
hkorsch@emory.edu
404-727-3990
Emory University
Source:Eurekalert

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