Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Neuroscience Updates

Cure hoped for Huntington’s sufferers
Gene therapy succeeds in mice with brain disease.
Nature Science Update
9 June 2004


Gene therapy could ease the symptoms of some devastating brain disorders, according to evidence presented to US conference last week.  Many neurodegenerative diseases are caused when the brain makes mutant proteins that build up in the brain, causing gradually worsening symptoms. These brain-wasting diseases are devastating and incurable. They include Huntington's disease, which affects around 250,000 people in the United States.

[...] Most gene therapy involves replacing a missing gene sequence. But in dominant disorders it is the mutant sequence itself that causes the problem, so any therapy needs to actively block a sequence rather than just replacing one.

To do this in the mice, Davidson’s team used a technique called RNA interference. The researchers isolated pieces of genetic material that bind to and block the mutant gene. They packaged these into stripped-down virus particles and injected them into the mice. The virus used was an adeno-associated virus that does not cause disease in mice or people.  After the injections, the proteins created by the mutant gene disappeared and the mice seemed to improve, the researchers told the annual meeting of the American Society of Gene Therapy in Minneapolis, Minnesota last week. [...]

[Frontiers in Bioscience 9, 63-73, January 1, 2004]

Claudio V. Mello

Inducible gene expression analysis has been successfully used to identify and characterize areas involved in the auditory processing of song in songbirds. When songbirds hear song, zenk, a gene encoding a transcriptional regulator linked to synaptic plasticity, is rapidly and transiently induced in several discrete areas of the telencephalon. This phenomenon is most marked in the caudomedial neostriatum (NCM), a major auditory processing area. zenk induction by song has proven very useful to investigate the functional organization of NCM as well as to characterize song-responding neurons in this brain area. Combined with data from anatomical and electrophysiological studies, the results of gene expression analysis suggest that NCM is involved in the auditory processing of complex sounds such as song and possibly in the formation and/or storage of song auditory memories. Thus, NCM appears to play a prominent role in perceptual aspects of vocal communication, and potentially in the process of vocal learning in songbirds and other vocal learning avian orders, i.e. parrots and hummingbirds.

Visible Human Server

Welcome to the Visible Human Server at the EPFL (Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne). The Peripheral Systems Lab (Prof. R.D. Hersch and his team) is proud to offer a virtual anatomic construction kit on the web using the Visible Human dataset. The applets available on this site provide the following features:

    * Extract slices, curved surfaces, and slice animations from both datasets (male and female)
    * Interactively navigate by slicing through the male dataset in real-time
    * Construct 3D anatomical scenes using combinations of slices and 3D models of internal structures from the male dataset, and extract 3D animations
    * Add voice comments to video sequences generated using the applets

The first one discusses a new potential treatment for neurodegenerative diseases, such as Huntington's Disease.  This is a rare autosomal (not sex-linked) dominant genetic disease that is always fatal.  The researchers found a way to deactivate the defective gene in mice. 

The second one I included just because it is kind of neat to see that sounds can cause genes to turn on under certain circumstances.  It makes me wonder about the distinction that often is made between biological treatment of mental illness, and psychological treatment.  If hearing a sound can change your brain chemistry, is there really any meaningful distinction between psychology and neurobiology?

The last one is not a news item; it is a website that looks interesting.  It uses Java applets to simulate anatomical dissection.  It allows you to generate 3D anatomical illustrations.  It looks like it would take a lot of practice to get to be good at using it.