Research Roundup: brain estrogen necessary for ovulation, breakthrough in treatment for Huntington’s disease and more!

Welcome to this week’s Research Roundup. These Friday posts aim to inform our readers about the many stories that relate to animal research each week. Do you have an animal research story we should include in next week’s Research Roundup? You can send it to us via our Facebook page or through the contact form on the website.

  • Massive brain remapping in child with double hand transplant. Just 2 years ago, an 8 year old child successfully underwent a double hand transplant at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Research in non-human primates, and humans, indicates that the brain will remap itself following amputation because it no longer receives input from the hands,. An example of such remapping is that touching the lip will activate brain responses in areas that were previously associated with the hand (hand sensory cortex). By measuring brain activity before and after the double hand transplant, scientists were able to demonstrate that lip responses mapped to the hand sensory cortex before transplantation, and then lip responses mapped ot the lip sensory cortex after transplantation. Thus, the brain was able to restore its sensory system following amputation and transplantation. Such research is positive for making hand transplants more of a reality, but it is important to remember that there are still many challenges for successful hand transplants because the immune system often rejects the transplant. This research was published in the Annals of Clinical and Translational Neurology.
  • Premotor cortex stimulation results in sensation by monkeys. Stroke, disease, or other injuries affecting the brain can result in lost connections between neurons, which can cause people to lose the ability to feel. Previous research has mainly focused on stimulating the primary sensory cortex in order to regain sensation; however, recent work in non-human primates has shown that stimulation of the premotor cortex results in sensation by the animals. This is important because it expands the area of the brain that can be treated with stimulation, which makes it more likely that treatment can bypass injured areas. Further animal research is needed to identify additional areas of the brain that result in various sensations. Published in Neuron.

  • Brain estrogen necessary for ovulation. Most textbooks indicate that the ovarian cycle is regulated by steroids, such as estrogen, released from the ovary — but estrogen can also be secreted from the hypothalamus of the brain. This team of researchers found, in rhesus monkeys, that while estrogen secreted from the ovaries starts the surge of hormones that leads to ovulation, the overall level fell short of what was required for ovulation to occur by about 70%. Rather, estrogen secreted from the brain in conjunction with that from the ovaries were necessary to induce ovulation. These findings may underpin failure with fertility treatments which target only the brain or only the ovaries. This research was published in the journal, PNAS.
  • New experimental drug appears to stop Huntington’s disease in its tracks. In what has been described as potentially the “biggest breakthrough in neurodegenrative diseases for 50 years”, a clinical trial of 46 patients has shown the drug IONIS-HTTRx can successfully lower the level of huntingtin protein (which, if defective, causes Huntington’s disease) in the nervous system. Prior to human trials, tests on mice showed the drug could improve motor function within one month, and restore them to normal health in two months. Tests on monkeys showed HTTRx could decrease huntingtin protein in the central nervous system significantly – as it does in humans. The drug works by ‘silencing’ the mRNA genetic strands which are responsible for creating the defective (and dangerous) huntingtin protein found in people with Huntington’s. This breakthrough offers huge hope to the one in 10,000 people at risk from this debilitating and fatal condition.
Image Credit: UCL and BBC
  • Showcasing #Sci-Comm, pigs turned into personalized avatars. Neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF-1), affects 1 in 3000 people worldwide. It is an incurable inherited disease that that manifests many possible symptoms. Because each patient can express symptoms of NF-1 differently, and thus require different treatments, it is crucial to have an animal model tailored to each patient to individualize his or her treatment. This week, Ed Yong, a science writer for The Atlantic, published a fantastic article describing how miniature pigs are now being relied upon as personalized models for NF1.