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US scientists bred "smart" mice

London (Reuters). Scientists in the US claim that they succeeded in breeding a strain of "smart" mice, by adding a gene to their brains, thus proving that it is possible to improve the intelligence of mammals, including humans.
The mice from a strain known as "Dougie" - named after a character in an American television series about a child prodigy - received additional copies of a gene called "NR2B" that helped them learn faster and improve memory. The gene may allow medication for learning difficulties and diseases related to memory loss or deterioration, such as Alzheimer's disease.

As the mice grow, characteristics of young mice are preserved in their brains, which can help improve learning later in life, explains Joe Tessien, a neurobiologist at Princeton University, and his colleagues from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the University of Washington.

The research revealed that there is a common biochemical function underlying all types of learning. The study also strengthened a theory that memory is formed when two neurons form a strong long-term connection (LTP)
NR2B is an essential "switch", which controls the brain's ability to connect one event to another. It works together with a brain receptor called NMDA that acts like a signaling station in the brain. As people get older - the NMDA responds less and less, so learning becomes more difficult. In addition to duplicating the NR2B gene in the mice, Tessien also programmed the duplicated genes so that as they aged, their activity increased instead of slowing down, which balanced the gene's activity. A team of researchers at MIT developed a test that measures the function of NMDA receptors to verify that the gene increases receptor activity.

At Princeton, the Dougie mice underwent a series of tests to examine their improved learning ability. The tests revealed that the mice remembered objects for four to five times longer than normal mice, and learned faster. The mice were put into pools of water inside which there was a hidden surface that could be used to climb out of the water. The dogi mice found the surface after three attempts, while the normal mice only found it after six attempts.

Published in "Haaretz" on 02/09/1999

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