UNMC Reports Breakthrough In Treatment For Brain Disorders

OMAHA – The University of Nebraska Medical Center is reporting a potential treatment for autism and intellectual disability.

The Medical Center says neuroscience professor Woo-Yang Kim and his team at the Munroe-Meyer Institute, involved researchers from the university and Creighton University in an exploration of genetic mutations of certain neurons in the brain.

“This is an exciting development because we have identified the pathological mechanism for a certain type of autism and intellectual disability,” Dr. Kim said.

The team created and analyzed a genetically modified mouse and found that certain mutated neurons resulted in an imbalance between brain exciters and brain downers.

Low levels of neurotransmitter  downers  may be linked to anxiety or mood disorders, epilepsy and chronic pain.

“In normal behavior, the brain is balanced between excitation and inhibition,” Dr. Kim said. “But when the inhibition is decreased, the balance is broken and the brain becomes more excited causing abnormal behavior.

The team found that a mutated gene, called Arid lb, impairs “downer” neurotransmitters.

“We showed that cognitive and social deficits induced by an Arid1b mutation in mice are reversed by pharmacological treatment with a GABA receptor modulating drug. And, now we have a designer mouse that can be used for future studies.”

Next steps for Dr. Kim and his team are to even further refine the specific mechanism for autism and intellectual disability and to identify which of the many GABA neurons are specifically involved.

Dr. Kim’s research was supported by a $1.7 million grant from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke and a $400,000 Institutional Development Award (IDeA) from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences of the National Institutes of Health.