Extreme repetitive behaviors such as hand-flapping, body-rocking, skin-picking, and sniffing are common to a number of brain disorders including autism, schizophrenia, Huntington’s disease, and drug addiction. These behaviors, termed stereotypies, are also apparent in animal models of drug addiction and autism. In a new study published online on March 23, 2021 in the European Journal of Neuroscience, researchers at MIT’s McGovern Institute for Brain Research have identified genes that are activated in the brain prior to the initiation of these severe repetitive behaviors. The article is titled “Striatal transcriptome changes linked to drug‐induced repetitive behaviors” (https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/ejn.15116). “Our lab has found a small set of genes that are regulated in relation to the development of stereotypic behaviors in an animal model of drug addiction,” says MIT Institute Professor Ann Graybiel, PhD, who is the senior author of the paper. “We were surprised and interested to see that one of these genes is a susceptibility gene for schizophrenia. This finding might help to understand the biological basis of repetitive, stereotypic behaviors as seen in a range of neurologic and neuropsychiatric disorders, and in otherwise ‘typical’ people under stress.” In work led by Research Scientist Jill Crittenden (photo), PhD, scientists in the Graybiel lab exposed mice to amphetamine, a psychomotor stimulant that drives hyperactivity and confined stereotypies in humans and in laboratory animals and that is used to model symptoms of schizophrenia.
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