Scientists have been able to manipulate the genes of mice to see if they are effected by eating disorders. The estrogen-related receptor, ESRRA, gene is sometimes mutated in humans to cause eating disorders, usually in families where eating disorders are fairly common. Researchers removed the ESRRA in some mice to see how they behave. Amazingly the mice without ESRRA showed similar behaviors to humans that have eating disorders and anxiety. The mice were not interested in high fat foods, socializing, and were obsessive compulsive. Of course, it isn’t a perfect match between the mice and humans, but this can help researchers can now figure out treatments.

The mice without ESRRA were about 15 percent lighter than the controlled group of mice. Since they had no interest in the high fat foods they were not taking in fat necessary to gain weight. Also the mice without ESRRA seemed to be more on edge than the controlled mice. When put into a maze the mice were taught how to get out of the maze, but then the researchers would move the exit. Instead of trying to figure out where the new exit was the mice without ESRRA would panic and stay where the exit was supposed to be.

Normally mice like to socialize with a new mouse rather than one they are familiar with. However, the mice without ESRRA would rather stay with the mice that they are familiar with rather than meet the new mouse. Much like a person with social anxiety and meeting new people. They would rather stay with the people they know. Also, the mice without ESRRA were more submissive, and this uncommon behavior for mice. The differences between the two groups of mice are almost night and day.

The behaviors in the mutated mice are very similar to those of humans with eating disorders. Now researchers can start working on different treatments for eating disorders. Since eating disorders are so complicated, figuring out treatments and causes has been difficult. Now researchers are heading in the right direction to figuring it out.

Photo: Flickr- Catrinoa Walker

 

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