A New Mouse Model for Studying Brain Cell Activity and Neurological Disorders

According to a brand new study on transgenic mice and the selective targeting of astrocytes that has recently appeared in the journal Neuron, scientists have come up with a new breakthrough research tool for studying the activity of astrocytes and the various diseases that they are believed to contribute to. The work, led by Baljit Khakh, is aimed for studying how the important brain cells known as astrocytes operate during the onset of neurological disorders such as Huntington’s Disease (HD), for the purpose of developing improved therapies and treatments.

The Aim of the Research – Studying the Protective Role of Astrocytes

The study was focused on astrocytes – brain cells that usually have the role of protecting neurons in the case of various pathological disorders and injuries, including in the event of a stroke or spinal injury. The cells behave differently in the case of ALS, HD and diseases such as Alzheimer’s. To find out about how their roles change during the onset and progression of these diseases, Khakh’s team has engineered a new mouse model that acts as a breakthrough compared to unsuccessful tries in manipulating the genes necessary for studying astrocytes. This new genetically engineered mouse is considered by the scientific community to be an important step toward developing better treatments for the aforementioned diseases

Using New Genetically Engineered Mice to Tackle the Problem

Unlike previous mouse models, the one developed by Khakh’s research team no longer affects other brain cells adversely. The Cre/ERT2 artificial gene can now be exclusively activated in astrocytes for better targeted results through the insertion of the gene into another gene, known as Aldh1l1, which is exclusively present in astrocytes. Previously, in order to activate the Cre/ERT2, researchers had to use a drug known as tamoxifen – a type of medication normally designed to treat breast cancer. By feeding it to the mice, they had ensured the gene’s activation, but vital brain cells were also affected. The new mouse model prevents this, and allows the Cre/ERT2 gene to only be activated in the astrocytes themselves. Another important advantage of using these mice was that the researchers were capable of studying the activation of molecular pathways in astrocytes that were caused by the presence of calcium. Additionally, they were able to pinpoint which genes were activated in astrocytes present in adult mice.

All in all, the activity of astrocytes in the brain has never been studied to such a detailed extent. As a result, the new mouse model is considered a promising tool for future research as well. Using these mice, researchers were able to study the activation of molecular pathways induced by calcium in astrocytes, as well as to identify which genes are activated in adult mouse astrocytes.

Promising Research for Future Treatments

According to Baljit Khakh, the results that this research has led to is pivotal in the development of new and improved treatments and medicine that could help improve patients’ response to disorders such as Alzheimer’s and HD. The road, however, is a long one. As Khakh has stated, the availability of the new mouse models is expected to be conducive to years’ worth of experiments and research. The most positive aspect of this situation, however, is that the full potential of what is possible has barely been addressed, and there are many promising practical applications that the mice may lead to.