Researchers reverse atypical behaviour in mice

Method targets brain region with damage linked to infection during pregnancy.

The activation of a mother’s immune response during pregnancy has been linked to atypical behaviour in children and, in mice, to patches of dysfunctional neurons in the brain. Gloria Choi at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Jun Huh, now at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts, and their colleagues have successfully reversed such behaviour in mice.

The researchers injected synthetic molecules into pregnant mice to mimic a viral infection, and observed impaired sociability and increased anxiety and repetitive behaviour in several of the animals’ offspring. Study of the unruly rodents’ brains identified a region — part of the sensory system — where patches of dysfunctional neurons most often emerged. The authors found that larger patches in this area correlated with more severe behavioural defects. Reducing neural activity in this part of the brain by using light to target specific engineered proteins suppressed the atypical behaviour of affected mice.

A separate paper reports further work led by Huh and Choi revealing that such behavioural changes are also influenced by the mother’s gut bacteria.