Research Roundup: A radical Parkinson’s treatment fails in humans; studying singing in mice gives insight into other mammalian conversations 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.

  • Radical Parkinson’s treatment tested and fails in patients. A radical Parkinson’s treatment, delivering a drug, GDNF, directly to the brain via a “port” has been tested in humans. Patients were given both the drug and a placebo and both groups showed improvement. Following the scientific method, it can only be concluded that the drug had no effect. However, unplanned PET scans did find visual evidence of improvements to affected areas of the brain only in those given the drug. Given that these scans were performed subsequent to the planned experiment, these results should be treated with caution given the risk of bias. This work owes much to the animal research that came before it. Published in the journals Brain and the Journal of Parkinson’s Disease.
  • Study of singing mice gives insight into mammalian conversation. By studying the songs of mice from the cloud forests of Costa Rica, researchers have discovered a brain circuit that may enable the high-speed back and forth of conversation. Males of the study species, Alston’s singing mouse (Scotinomys teguina), produce songs with nearly a hundred audible notes. They challenge competitors by singing in turns, alternating like talking humans, say the study authors. In contrast, standard laboratory mice produce ultrasonic sounds without evident exchanges. Thus, the new study, led by NYU Langone researchers, launches a new field by employing a novel mammalian model to examine brain mechanisms behind the sub-second precision of vocal turn-taking. “Our work directly demonstrates that a brain region called the motor cortex is needed for both these mice and for humans to vocally interact,” says senior study author Michael Long, PhD. Published in Science.
  • “Night-vision” mice created via nanoparticles. Researchers have engineered mice that can see infrared light that is normally invisible to most mammals. To accomplish this feat, they injected the eyes of the mice with nanoparticles that converted the infrared light to visible wavelengths in the green spectrum. Subsequent behavioral tests confirmed that the mice injected with these nanoparticles were indeed responding to infrared light. Although a technologically remarkable feat, scientists in the field have expressed concern about applicability and relevance. Published in the journal, Cell.

  • Battling malaria by giving mosquitoes an antimalarial drug. Insecticides that kill mosquitoes have helped to fight malaria, but insecticide resistance is rising. Treating mosquitoes with drugs that target the disease-causing parasite offers another way of tackling malaria. The authors found that exposing mosquitoes to the antimalarial drug atovaquone, could kill parasites in a mosquito host. Extensive work will be needed to optimize drug development, and so produce long-lasting formulations. Moreover, assessments of the drug-manufacturing process should be undertaken, together with a drug’s resistance potential and the cost and public acceptability of the approach. Published in Nature.