Saturday, August 20, 2011

ERKsome findings

ERKs are enzymes in cells that perform numerous tasks. In brain cells, ERKs help the cell adapt to changing stimulus and help create new cells. Researchers have found that by reducing the level of ERK2 from midgestation in mice, these mice go on to show social differences, likened to ASD. However, we also  have reason to believe that a child with no ERK2 would not survive. Based on these pieces of information, we would expect that a child experiencing prolonged low ERK2 would likely develop ASD or another psychiatric disorder. Curiously, the opposite appears to be happening in ASD. ERKs are actually increased in the (postmortem) brains of some 8 year-olds with ASD. Particularly ERK5, which is responsible for brain cell death. However, we know how unique each child is with ASD. Whether these changes in ERK are consistent for ASD, selective for this group, or even a consequence of earlier developmental problems will not be known for some time. Animal studies still have some way to go in this regard also. What is clear is the delicate balance of ERK levels for learning and development. And because of this, perhaps now, ERK drug targets will migrate from cancer research towards ASD research.

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