April 26, 2010
Researchers at the Ansary Stem Cell Institute and the Department of Psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College discovered that mice missing a single gene developed repetitive obsessive-compulsive-like behaviors. The genetically altered mice, which behaved much like people with a certain type of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), could help scientists design new therapies for this debilitating condition.
The researchers made this serendipitous discovery while looking at the role of a gene, called Slitrk5, which they had earlier linked to blood stem cells and vascular cells. In the April 25 online edition of Nature Medicine they report how, in follow-up studies, mice in which the gene was disabled (“knocked-out”) demonstrated obsessive self-grooming and extreme anxiety. Further study showed that the frontal lobe-to-striatum circuitry of the brains of these mice were altered in the same ways that are implicated in OCD in humans.
This discovery links Slitrk5 to development of OCD-like behaviors, and offers scientists a new mouse model of the disorder, say the study’s senior co-investigators, Dr. Shahin Rafii and Dr. Francis S.Y. Lee. Dr. Rafii is director of the Ansary Stem Cell Institute and professor in genetic medicine Weill Cornell Medical College and and an HHMI investigator. Dr. Lee is associate professor of psychiatry and pharmacology at the Medical College.
“Overall, our data suggest that Slitrk5 may have a central role in the development of the core symptoms of OCD — self-injurious, repetitive behavior and increased anxiety,” Dr. Rafii says. “Very few psychiatric disorders have been linked to a single gene, and it will be important to find out if patients with the disorder have an alteration of Slitrk5.”