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Gene therapy promotes survival of brain tissue and preserves memory
By Bijal P. Trivedi

Preventing neuron death after a seizure or stroke does not guarantee that the functions of those brain regions will be preserved. In a new study researchers compared the protective effects of two genes on neuron death and short-term memory. While both genes increased the survival of neurons, only one preserved memory functions.

Researchers gave rats a chemical that induced damage in the hippocampus—an area associated with memory formation—simulating a stroke or seizure injury. At the time the damage was induced the rats received a dose of either the Glut-1 glucose transporter (GT) gene or the Bcl-2 gene.

Examination of brain tissue indicated that both genes prevented neuron death to about the same extent, but had different effects on memory preservation, says John McLaughlin, of Stanford University, in California.

Memory function was assessed by training rats to swim and climb onto a platform in a small wadding pool. When the platform was submerged just beneath the water the rats had to remember cues from around the room in order to find the platform. Rats that received the GT gene had much better memory skills than those that received Bcl-2, and were able to perform the task more quickly. The study is published in the current issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The results of this study suggest that gene therapy researchers should focus equally on histological and functional endpoints before beginning clinical trials, says McLaughlin.

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McLaughlin, J. et al. Sparing of neuronal function postseizure with gene therapy. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 97, 12804-12809 (November 7, 2000).

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