Rapid gene change via behavior

Individuals with mutations in the tumor suppressor gene PTEN are prone not only to tumors but also to brain disorders, including macrocephaly (enlarged head circumference), seizures and mental retardation. Although PTEN mutations have been reported in autistic patients with macrocephaly, it is not clear whether there is a causal link between this gene and autistic spectrum disorders (ASD). Writing in Neuron, Chang-Hyuk Kwon and colleagues provide direct evidence that inactivation of Pten in mice results in neuropathological changes as well as abnormalities in social interaction.

Using several behavioral models, the researchers show that the Pten-mutant mice have deficits in social learning and interaction. For example, the mutant animals spent less time investigating the social target (a new mouse) compared with controls. When presented with a choice between the social target and an inaminate object, the Pten mutants spent similar amounts of time interacting with both. When the social target was removed and later re-introduced, the mutant mice, unlike their normal counterparts, did not reduce their interaction with it, indicating that they might have impaired social learning.

Our genes, like our environment, merely increases probabilities of certain states of affairs or behaviors without determining anything specific.


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