Researchers from Britain and Canada recently discovered how to alter the brain of a mouse so that they are not only more clever, but less anxious. Published in the scientific journal Neuropsychopharmacology on Friday, scientists reportedly modified a single gene in a way that blocks the ‘phosphodiesterase-4b’ enzyme (or ‘PDE4B’), which could potentially lead to new treatment for human mental disorders like schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s, and PTSD.
“Our work using mice has identified phosphodiesterase-4B as a promising target for potential new treatments,” said Steve Clapcote, leader of the study and a lecturer in pharmacology at Britain’s Leeds University.
In the experiments detailed in the journal entry, researchers studied how the mice with blocked PDE4B reacted to a series of tests. It was found that the modified mice were better at recognizing a mouse they had seen the day before, and were able to learn the location of a hidden escape platform faster. They were also less likely to be affected by a fearful event several days quicker than the other mice, and even responded less nervously when exposed to cat urine, despite their natural fear of felines. Furthermore, the PDE4B-inhibited mice spent more time out in open and brightly-lit spaces than the regular mice, who typically dwell in smaller and darker spaces. Researchers concluded that not only did the modified mice become faster at learning, able to retain events longer, and better at solving complex problems compared to normal mice, but they also were generally less anxious and took more risks.
The phosphodiesterase-4b enzyme is also found in humans, and the team is now working on creating a drug that will inhibit PDE4B in the human brain, testing it first in animals before moving on to clinical trials in people. If things go well, this could mean better treatment or even a possible cure for various damaging mental conditions, both congenital and due to old age.