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'Rain Man' mice provide model for autism
Date:9/7/2007

DALLAS Sept. 7, 2007 Mice containing a mutated human gene implicated in autism exhibit the poor social skills but increased intelligence akin to the title characters traits in the movie Rain Man,? researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center have found.

The researchers study also shows how the mutation affects nerve function and provides an animal model that might allow further study of the debilitating condition.

Its an attempt to replicate, as best we can, a complicated disease that has as a symptom an inability to use language effectively, said Dr. Thomas Sdhof, chairman of neuroscience and senior author of the study, which appears online in Science Express and will be published later in Science.

Any model we make will only be an approximation of the human condition, he cautioned.

Autism spectrum disorders cover a wide span of conditions and symptoms, from severe mental retardation to mild social impairment. In general, people with autism have problems with social interactions, such as maintaining eye contact or reading body language. They may also exhibit stereotypical behavior, such as being obsessed with lining up objects. In the movie Rain Man, the title character was unable to form social bonds and became distressed when his normal routine was disrupted, yet he could perform exceptional mental mathematics.

About 1.5 million people in the United States have autism spectrum disorders, with boys affected more often than girls.

Some cases of autism are genetically linked and have been associated with mutations that affect molecules called neuroligins, which link nerve cells together.

In the latest study, the researchers introduced a mutated human form of the neuroligin-3 molecule into mice. They then tested the animals social interactions by exposing them to an unknown mouse in a cage. The genetically engineered mice spent less time near the strange mouse than their nor
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Contact: Aline McKenzie
aline.mckenzie@utsouthwestern.edu
214-648-3404
UT Southwestern Medical Center
Source:Eurekalert

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