Scientists have found increases in the numbers of neurons in brain regions of autistic children, suggesting a problem in developmental programmed cell death pathways. One of the most important effectors of neuronal survival during brain development is the “anti-cell death” protein Bcl-xL. While the normal function of Bcl-xL is to maintain a healthy number of neurons and synapses, over-expressed Bcl-xL can cause an overabundance of synaptic connections. This may be happening in fragile X.
With a $140,000 grant from FRAXA Research Foundation, Dr. Vitaly Klyachko and team at Washington University explored STP (short-term plasticity) in fragile X, namely looking at presynaptic calcium dynamics as a major underlying cause of the STP defects.
With a $157,000 grant from the FRAXA Research Foundation in 201202013, Dr. Kendal Broadie and Dr. Cheryl Gatto worked to define the distinct but also overlapping roles for MMP-1 and MMP-2 in synaptic structural and functional development. In drug studies with fragile X fruit flies, they will be testing a range of MMPIs in drug treatments to compare effectiveness during development and at maturity, in order to define the contributions of FXS developmental impairments and adult recovery/plasticity.
With a $90,000 grant from FRAXA Research Foundation over two years, Drs. Olivier Manzoni and Daniela Neuhofer researched the relationship between fragile X syndrome and the areas of the brain that are involved in reward processing, regulation of emotional behavior and emotional memory as well as attention, planning and working memory.
With a $128,500 grant over 2011-2013 from FRAXA Research Foundation, Drs. Bradley Alger and and Ai-Hui Tang at the University of Maryland researched endocannabinoid pathways in fragile X.
With $384,345 in grants from FRAXA Research Foundation, Dr. MariVi Tejada from the University of Houston focused on a particularly promising point of intervention in pathways of brain receptors, and tested several potential therapeutic compounds in an attempt to rescue function in the mouse model of fragile X.
Dr. Huber made the original discovery of the mGluR Theory of Fragile X when she was a postdoctoral fellow in the lab of Dr. Mark Bear, with her first FRAXA grant in 2000. Dr. Huber has received $474,300 in grants from FRAXA Research Foundation since then, researching molecular mechanisms and developmental switches in fragile X syndrome. She has worked with 4 FRAXA Postdoctoral Fellows (Elena Nosyreva, PhD in 2006; Jennifer Roseni, PhD in 2007; Tong Zang, PhD in 2010-2011; and Weirui Guo, PhD in 2012-2013) and has received supporting funds from The Meadows Foundation of/for Texas.
With a $163,356 grant from FRAXA Research Foundation in 2010-12, Dr. Scott Soderling and Dr. Hwan Kim at Duke University bred the standard mouse model of fragile X syndrome to their lines of mice that express reduced levels of several key proteins that modulate synaptic actin. These compound mutant mice were compared to FXS mice to determine if genetically impairing pathways to the actin cytoskeleton can rescue deficits in the FXS mice.
Dr. Bassell’s team has developed powerful molecular genetic techniques to track mRNAs and FMRP particles as they move through these processes in brain tissue from fragile X knockout mice. They have shown that a specific intracellular signaling pathway, the PI3K/mTOR pathway, is overactive in the absence of FMRP. This pathway is involved in mediating many neuronal neurotransmitter receptors. This project will test new drugs in development which inhibit an enzyme known as PI3 kinase, a part of the pathway, and have the potential to normalize neuronal function in fragile X.
With a $82,500 grant from FRAXA Research Foundation in 2011-2012, Dr. Christopher Cowan and Dr. Laura Smith explored the role of specific signaling pathways in drug-related behavioral deficits, including determining the role, if any, of known impairments in the fragile X brain.
With $109,500 in grants from FRAXA Research Foundation over 5 years, Dr. Karen O’Malley of Washington University researches the relationship between fragile X syndrome and the functions of mGluR5.