Scientists create genetically modified ‘autistic’ dogs to study the disease

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Scientists create genetically modified autistic dogs
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Although there is still much to be done in the study of autism spectrum disorders, scientists hope that through this study new antecedents for the treatment of this condition will be discovered.

Using genetic modification technology, a team of Chinese and American scientists has created the first known model of autism spectrum disorder in dogs, aiming to advance knowledge of the condition.

Researchers used the CRISPR/Cas9 tool to edit the SHANK3 gene, mutations of which have been repeatedly found in people with autism, resulting in a line of beagle dogs exhibiting behaviors common in this type of disorder, such as anxiety and social phobia. » reported this Monday the South China Morning Post.

Why create autistic dogs?

The Chinese members of the team, belonging to the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Beijing Sinogene Biotechnology company, recalled that until now, studies aimed at understanding the molecular and neurological mechanisms of this disease had only used rodents and monkeys.

However, as they noted, neither species is ideal for this type of study because the brains and behavior of mice are too different from humans, while the long reproductive cycles and the Monkeys’ low birth rates make their use difficult and expensive in these investigations.

Scientists create genetically modified autistic dogs
Pexels

The study, published in the journal Nature’s Molecular Psychiatry, instead argues that autistic dogs might be a more appropriate study model given the complexity of their social interaction with humans and their shorter reproductive cycle.

Similarly, Zhang Yongqing, a professor at the Institute of Genetics and Developmental Biology in Beijing, pointed out that the interaction of dogs with humans is extremely similar to that which occurs between humans.

Autistic dog tests and results

In the study, scientists conducted behavioral tests that included artificial intelligence analysis of the position and movement of the dogs’ tails – a fundamental marker of this species’ mood – and observation of their interaction with d other dogs and with people.

The dogs subjected to the genetic mutation “displayed marked disturbances in their social behavior, including withdrawal and reduced interactions with humans,” notes the publication.

The research also found that when autistic dogs were more socially isolated and their tails were retracted or stiff and immobile, the level of cortisol – a hormone linked to stress – in their blood was very high.

Scientists create genetically modified autistic dogs
Pexels

Challenges of treating autism

According to the World Health Organization, autism spectrum disorder is a variety of conditions related to brain development that make social interactions and communication difficult.

According to Zhang Yongqing, although science has succeeded in better understanding the genes associated with the autism spectrum, much progress remains to be made in its treatment. Therefore, the research authors hope that canine models will be used to develop new drugs and social adaptation therapies to treat autism.

From this study, the researchers believe that more dog models could be developed in which other genes linked to autistic disorder are modified, although, according to Professor Zhang, attempts to genetically modify these other genes have failed so far. “We don’t know why there was success with SHANK3 and not the others,” he added.

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