Researchers at SickKids identify a protein critical for memory and learning

    TORONTO, Feb. 24 /CNW/ - Researchers from The Hospital for Sick Children
(SickKids) have made a breakthrough discovery that may eventually change the
way physicians approach treatment of learning and memory defects in children
and adults. Their findings are published in the current issue of PLoS Biology.
    A team led by Dr. Roderick McInnes, SickKids Senior Scientist, Professor
of Pediatrics and Molecular Genetics, Anne and Max Tanenbaum Chair in
Molecular Medicine at the University of Toronto, and the Scientific Director
for Genetics at the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and Dr. Michael
Salter, SickKids Senior Scientist and Head of the Program in Neurosciences &
Mental Health and Professor of Physiology at the University of Toronto, found
that a protein called Neto1 is critical for memory and learning in mice. The
researchers discovered that Neto1 is a key component of synapses, the highly
specialized sites of communication between the brain's individual neurons
(nervous system cells). Mice genetically engineered to be deficient in Neto1
show a dramatic decrease in learning and in the way synapses adapt to brain
    "We have a new player in the game. Neto1 was never considered to be
involved in how nerve cells communicate with one another. Now we found out
that not only is it's critical," says Dr. Salter.
    To determine whether the learning defect in the mice could be improved,
the scientists gave the Neto1-lacking mice a drug that is currently being
clinically tested in patients with Alzheimer's disease. Remarkably, in the
mice with the inherited learning defect, learning and memory were restored to
normal by the drug.
    "It's part of a paradigm shift in neuroscience," says Dr. McInnes.
"Neurologists and neuroscientists have always tended to think that if the
brain is abnormal at birth, nothing can be done to improve intellectual
function, and that special education was virtually the only assistance
    "Our findings, and other research over the past five years, suggest that
the situation is more hopeful," says Dr. McInnes. "It is no longer a fantasy
to think that drug treatment might, in the future, be available for such
    SickKids post-doctoral fellows and the study's lead authors David Ng and
Graham Pitcher say "The idea of using this type of drug, which belongs to
class of drugs called ampakines, was that of our collaborator Dr. John Roder,
of the Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute in Toronto. It was an inspired
    As promising as these findings are, it is still very early days before
patients with intellectual disabilities could ever be offered a medication of
this type. "We would be concerned about possible negative effects, including
disordered thinking or emotional disturbances, which can't be fully evaluated
in an animal model," says Dr. McInnes.
    The study was supported by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and
the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and SickKids Foundation.

    The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids), affiliated with the University
of Toronto, is Canada's most research-intensive hospital and the largest
centre dedicated to improving children's health in the country. As innovators
in child health, SickKids improves the health of children by integrating care,
research and teaching. Our mission is to provide the best in complex and
specialized care by creating scientific and clinical advancements, sharing our
knowledge and expertise and championing the development of an accessible,
comprehensive and sustainable child health system. For more information,
please visit SickKids is committed to healthier children for
a better world.

For further information:

For further information: Matet Nebres, The Hospital for Sick Children,
(416) 813-6380,; Suzanne Gold, The Hospital for Sick
Children, (416) 813-7654, ext. 2059,

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