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Mice Get Smarter By Losing Cdk5 Enzyme

Just when you think you have a better mousetrap - they build a smarter mouse. Texas University research suggests that mice with the Cdk5 enzyme knocked out learn faster and detect changes in their environment more rapidly. The study results were published in the journal Nature Neuroscience this week.

"It's pretty rare that you make mice 'smarter,' so there are a lot of cognitive implications," the study's senior author, Dr. James Bibb, said in a news release.

"Everything is more meaningful to these mice," he said. "The increase in sensitivity to their surroundings seems to have made them smarter."

The key was removing the gene for Cdk5 only in the brain, and only after the mice had grown to adulthood. A technique called "conditional knock-out" was used, which results in a tissue-specific inactivation of a gene.

The reconfigured mice are better able to find their way through a water maze - and avoiding the electroshock parts. When crafty researchers altered the maze, the modified mice were the first to realize the change and learn the new structure.

This can be achieved by means of a recombinase, which is an enzyme that deletes the DNA fragment located between the two recombinase-specific sites. A mouse bearing the recombinase-specific sites is bred with a mouse expressing the recombinase. The tissue-specific expression of the recombinase allows the inactivation of the gene of interest only in the tissue where the recombinase is expressed

Like the rest of us, science fiction writers have diligently set up scenarios in which humans could become smarter. In Philip K. Dick's 1964 novel The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, people could actually get more brains if they wanted to be smarter. A procedure called E Therapy was performed to increase the size of their brains:

The man's head reminded Hnatt of a photograph he had once seen in a textbook; the photo had been labeled hydrocephalic. The same enlargement above the browline; it was clearly domelike and oddly fragile-looking and he saw at once why these well-to-do persons who had evolved were popularly called bubbleheads.
(Read more about bubbleheads)

Amazingly, researchers have been able to grow larger brains in mice; see the second part of Philip K. Dick's Bubblehead Brainiacs for details. Researchers have also tried creating mouse-human hybrids to make them smarter (mice, that is); see Mouse With Human Brain May Live for details.

Via CBC News; see also conditional knock out mouse.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 5/29/2007)

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