In Chinese culture, 2011 is the year of the rabbit. In the autism research field, it seems to be the year of the mouse model, with five new mouse strains that carry the same genetic glitches as some people with the disorder.
By my count, that means researchers now have access to more than a dozen mice carrying genetic signatures linked to autism.
The idea is that by altering an individual candidate gene or genetic region in a mouse, scientists can better understand how it causes particular behaviors. These studies are exciting, but I think it’s also important to reflect on the mutant mice that, despite carrying an autism-linked genetic variation, don’t show any autism-like behaviors.
Case in point: a mouse model lacking a working version of SEMA5A, described in the November issue of Behavioural Brain Research. After performing ten standardized behavioral tests on this mouse, the researchers concluded that it has no autism-specific characteristics.
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