BOB HISRON (HOST):
In studies of mice, MIT researchers have altered the expression of a gene that causes the symptoms of many forms of mental retardation and autism. The gene is part of the so-called Fragile X Syndrome, which affects 100,000 Americans. It makes brain cells oversensitive to brain chemical called glutamate. In the mice, dampening this effect reversed the symptoms of these conditions. While the research used genetic engineering, the team is now trying to achieve the same effect with drugs. Human clinical trials are just getting underway.
In other brain research, scientists have found that tamping down the activity of another brain chemical, called GABA, makes fruitflies smarter. Believe it or not, human brains are chemically similar to fruitfly brains, so the research could lead to insights into human learning as well. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.