U. study: Could gene manipulation be a boost to the brain?

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Associate professor Jason Shepherd, left, and graduate assistant Kyle Jenks examine data on their study involving rejuvenation of the plasticity of a mouse brain at the Sorensen Molecular Biotechnology Building at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City on Aug 10, 2017.

SALT LAKE CITY — A newly published study from University of Utah researchers suggests there are ways to improve the adaptability of brains in mice even after the naturally occurring window for such flexibility has closed.

Specifically, the component of the brain responsible for sight — called the visual cortex — regained adaptability in middle-age mice subjects following the manipulation of a gene called arc, said Jason Shepherd, professor of neurobiology and anatomy at the U. and the study’s lead investigator.

The findings could potentially have implications for aging humans, though more research on the subject needs to be done, Shepherd said.

“Just through normal aging, there’s cognitive decline in humans, as well as in response to injury to the brain,” he told the Deseret News. “If we could figure how to boost that gene in that context, we could boost recovery.”

Shepherd said future studies may focus on whether the arc gene can also promote improvements in other cognitive functions in mice, including memory retention and learning new information.

“The question is — can we boost plasticity in other areas of the brain?” he asked. “We’re going to use similar approaches to look at other aspects of behavior in these mice.”

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