HHMI News: Gene Therapy Restores Feeding Behavior to Starving Mice
A research team led by Richard D. Palmiter , a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator at the University of Washington, demonstrated that gene therapy restored dopamine production in specific areas of the brains of mutant mice. The mice, which were developed by Qun-Yong Zhou in Palmiter’s laboratory in the mid-1990s, lack tyrosine hydroxylase, an enzyme that is required to produce L-DOPA, a chemical precursor that is converted into the neurotransmitter dopamine. These mice lack the motivation to feed, and die of starvation a few weeks after birth, unless they are hand-fed or injected daily with L-DOPA. The gene therapy restored feeding behavior in the mice.
“These dopamine-deficient mice have many other behavioral deficits,” said Palmiter. “In addition to not eating adequately, they show no preference for sweets, they fail to build nests and they lack curiosity in novel environments. They are generally hypoactive, they are also slow to initiate movements and they have difficulty with coordination — a syndrome that resembles parkinsonism.”