Fragile X syndrome is the most common cause of autism. Even though the single gene that’s responsible for it was discovered in 1991, and the disease is detected by a simple blood test, there’s no treatment or cure.
A team of researchers led by Michigan State University, however, has provided a promising lead in battling this disease. In the current issue of Nature Communications, the scientists identified a single protein that appears to be the culprit in causing many behavioral symptoms as well as molecular and cellular abnormalities related to Fragile X.
“We began with 600-800 potential protein targets, searching for the equivalent of a needle in a haystack,” said Hongbing Wang, MSU physiologist and study co-author. “Our needle turned out to be ADCY1. When we compared levels of this protein in Fragile X mouse model to normal controls, we saw a 20-25 percent increase of ADCY1.”
Subsequent tests of the team’s prime-target protein on the Fragile X mouse model revealed four key results. First, by reducing the expression of ADCY1, the team eliminated many autism-like behaviors. Second, the protein’s increased expression caused increased signaling in neurons. By reducing levels of ADCY1, the team dampened neuron signaling to levels within a normal range.