Over-expressing a gene that lets brain cells communicate just a fraction of a second longer makes a smarter rat, report researchers from the Medical College of Georgia and East China Normal University.
Dubbed Hobbie-J after a smart rat that stars in a Chinese cartoon book, the transgenic rat was able to remember novel objects, such as a toy she played with, three times longer than the average Long Evans female rat, which is considered the smartest rat strain. Hobbie-J was much better at more complex tasks as well, such as remembering which path she last traveled to find a chocolate treat.
The report comes about a decade after the scientists first reported in the journal Nature that they had developed “Doogie,” a smart mouse that over-expresses the NR2B gene in the hippocampus, a learning and memory center affected in diseases such as Alzheimer’s. Memory improvements they found in the new genetically modified Long Evans rat were very similar to Doogie’s. Subsequent testing has shown that Doogie maintained superior memory as he aged.
“This adds to the notion that NR2B is a universal switch for memory formation,” says Dr. Joe Z. Tsien, co-director of the MCG Brain & Behavior Discovery Institute and co-corresponding author on the paper published Oct. 19 in PLoS One. Dr. Xiaohua Cao at East China Normal University also is a co-corresponding author.
The finding also further validates NR2B as a drug target for improving memory in healthy individuals as well as those struggling with Alzheimer’s or mild dementia, the scientists says.