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Many causes for learning lags in tumor disorder
Date:12/21/2012

The causes of learning problems associated with an inherited brain tumor disorder are much more complex than scientists had anticipated, researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis report.

The disorder, neurofibromatosis 1 (NF1), is among the most common inherited pediatric brain cancer syndromes. Children born with NF1 can develop low-grade brain tumors, but their most common problems are learning and attention difficulties.

"While one of our top priorities is halting tumor growth, it's also important to ensure that these children don't have the added challenges of living with learning and behavioral problems," says senior author David H. Gutmann, MD, PhD, the Donald O. Schnuck Family Professor of Neurology. "Our results suggest that learning problems in these patients can be caused by more than one factor. Successful treatment depends on identifying the biological reasons underlying the problems seen in individual patients with NF1."

The study appears online in Annals of Neurology.

According to Gutmann, who is director of the Washington University Neurofibromatosis Center, scientists are divided when considering the basis for NF1-associated learning abnormalities and attention deficits.

Mutations in the Nf1 gene can disrupt normal regulation of an important protein called RAS in the hippocampus, a brain region critical for learning. Initial work from other investigators had shown that increased RAS activity due to defective Nf1 gene function impairs memory and attention in some Nf1 mouse models.

However, earlier studies by Gutmann and collaborator David F. Wozniak, PhD, research professor in psychiatry, showed that a mutation in the Nf1 gene lowers levels of dopamine, a neurotransmitter involved in attention. In this Nf1 mouse model, Gutmann and his colleagues found that the branches of dopamine-producing nerve cells were unusually short, limiting their ability to make and
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Contact: Michael C. Purdy
purdym@wustl.edu
314-286-0122
Washington University School of Medicine
Source:Eurekalert

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