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New brain map could explain which circuits are disrupted in Autism and Huntingdon’s disease

By mapping a portion of a mouse brain, researchers from the University of Southern California (USC) believe that they may have found another piece in the puzzle that will help them to find new treatments for both Huntingdon’s disease and autism. Previously uncharted, this area of the brain was examined by the researchers in order to find out more about the circuit disruptions which are seen in both conditions.

For the last ten years, Hong-Wei Dong and his colleagues from the USC Mark and Mary Stevens Neuroimaging and Informatics Institute have been compiling a map of the mouse brain. This most recent study was centred on the connections in the dorsal striatum, an area of the brain that is located near to the front of the brain and which is responsible for motor learning.

Over 150 mice were used in the study. By injecting fluorescent molecules into the mice brains, the team were able to use a high-res microscope to follow the path of the molecules as they travelled through the brain. These paths or so-called cellular highways are used to communicate and coordinate behaviours, therefore they need to be in excellent condition.

As the team followed the progress of these molecules through the previously uncharted dorsal striatum, they found that there were 29 distinct areas that were responsible for actions such as movement of the eyes, mouth and face, or for processing feelings such as pain. They were also able to locate centres that coordinated more complex limb movements, and follow such circuitry paths from the beginning to the end.

The researchers believe that the identification of these distinct areas has enabled them to move to the next level of understanding of how disruptions take place in the brain circuitry. As Parkinson’s disease and other movement disorders involve links in this region of the brain, it will inform future research and help scientists to further understand the pathways for these kind of diseases. Furthermore, it’s hoped that better understanding of the mouse brain will potentially lead to the development of new medical therapies and drugs.

The team now plan to map the hippocampus, which is the where emotions, memory and the autonomic nervous system arise. Having a detailed map of this area will prove very beneficial for further research into Alzheimer’s disease.

This study was published in a recent edition of Nature Neuroscience.

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