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Motor Learning Loss Due to MEK1 Hyperactivation in Cortical Excitatory Neurons

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Rasopathies are a family of developmental syndromes that exhibit craniofacial abnormalities, cognitive disabilities, developmental delay and increased risk of cancer. However, little is known about the pathogenesis of developmental defects in the nervous system. Frequently, gain-of-function mutations in the Ras/Raf/MEK/ERK

Rasopathies are a family of developmental syndromes that exhibit craniofacial abnormalities, cognitive disabilities, developmental delay and increased risk of cancer. However, little is known about the pathogenesis of developmental defects in the nervous system. Frequently, gain-of-function mutations in the Ras/Raf/MEK/ERK cascade (aka ERK/MAPK) are associated with the observed pathogenesis. My research focuses on defining the relationship between increased ERK/MAPK signaling and its effects on the nervous system, specifically in the context of motor learning. Motor function depends on several neuroanatomically distinct regions, especially the spinal cord, cerebellum, striatum, and cerebral cortex. We tested whether hyperactivation of ERK/MAPK specifically in the cortex was sufficient to drive changes in motor function. We used a series of genetically modified mouse models and cre-lox technology to hyperactivate ERK/MAPK in the cerebral cortex. Nex:Cre/NeuroD6:Cre was employed to express a constitutively active MEK mutation throughout all layers of the cerebral cortex from an early stage of development. RBP4:Cre, caMEK only exhibited hyper activation in cortical glutamatergic neurons responsible for cortical output (neurons in layer V of the cerebral cortex). First, the two mouse strains were tested in an open field paradigm to assess global locomotor abilities and overall fitness for fine motor tasks. Next, a skilled motor reaching task was used to evaluate motor learning capabilities. The results show that Nex:Cre/NeuroD6:Cre, caMEK mutants do not learn the motor reaching task, although they performed normally on the open field task. Preliminary results suggest RBP4:Cre, caMEK mutants exhibit normal locomotor capabilities and a partial lack of learning. The difference in motor learning capabilities might be explained by the extent of altered connectivity in different regions of the corticospinal tract. Once we have identified the neuropathological effects of various layers in the cortex we will be able to determine whether therapeutic interventions are sufficient to reverse these learning defects.

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Date Created
2016-12