Israeli lab raises hyperactive mutant mice for developing ADHD medications

Peer-reviewed research invites scholars worldwide to breed mice with a single ADHD mutation discovered in Bedouin family, as they give ‘unprecedented insight’ into brain function

Nathan Jeffay is The Times of Israel's health and science correspondent

Illustrative: Laboratory mice. (toeytoey2530/Istock via Getty Images)
Illustrative: Laboratory mice. (toeytoey2530/Istock via Getty Images)

An Israeli lab has bred dozens of hyperactive mice and says they are one of the most useful tools so far for understanding Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder — and could potentially help scientists to develop treatments.

Normally, it’s hard to pin down exactly what causes ADHD, and numerous genes, as well as environmental factors, are generally cited. But researchers in Beersheba discovered that in one particular Bedouin family in which the parents are first cousins, a single gene caused the children to have the disorder.

The research team, at Ben Gurion University, tested its conclusion by editing the CDH2 gene in mice, to replicate the mutation found in the family’s genes. Without fail, all the mice developed ADHD symptoms, and there are now several generations of hyperactive mice in the team’s lab.

Prof. Ohad Birk, who led the study, told The Times of Israel, that the mice are proof that in some rare cases just a single genetic mutation can cause ADHD, which could shape future research.

And he said that more significantly, the mice represent a new and important tool for scientists to explore ADHD, as they give “unprecedented insight” into what goes on in the brains of people with the disorder.

“We raised mice with exactly the same mutation in their genes and put them through 15 behavior tests, which show they clearly have ADHD,” said Birk.

The regular CDH2 gene, and the gene in mutated form as found in the Israeli family that was subject of the Ben Gurion University study, and in the mice subsequently raised (courtesy of Ben Gurion University)

“As they reflect symptoms on the basis of just one mutation, and not a combination of mutations, they are more reliable than most other animal models in reflecting the human disease,” he said.

“These mice, and others like them, will become a standard tool for researchers studying ADHD, including those finding medications. Normally, it’s very hard to create a good animal model for studying ADHD, as several genes can be involved, and possibly also environmental factors. Here there’s just one gene that causes ADHD, and all the symptoms we look for are there, which is what makes ours such a reliable model.”

Prof. Ohad Birk (left) and his MD-PhD student Daniel Halperin (courtesy of Ben Gurion University)

Birk, his PhD student Daniel Halperin, and their collaborators, have published their peer-reviewed study in Nature Communications.

In the article, they invite any researchers wanting to raise mice with the mutation they identified to get in touch, offering to share full instructions. This means that their animal model could soon be used internationally.

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