One of the most beautiful and heartbreaking science fiction stories I've ever read is Flowers for Algernon, from Daniel Keyes, in which a new drug that makes a mouse (Algernon) and a boy suffering from mental retardation is tested.
As if the novel now became real, a group of scientists from the University of Leeds has managed to make a mouse very intelligent and To do this, you only had to modify one gene. As a result, mice were also less likely to feel anxiety or remember fear. The study has been published in Nature.
The researchers altered a gene in mice to inhibit the activity of an enzyme called phosphodiesterase-4B (PDE4B), which is present in many organs of the vertebrate body, including the brain. In the behavioral tests, the inhibited PDE4B mice showed greater cognitive ability. This meant that they tended to learn faster, remember events longer and solve complex exercises better than normal mice.
For example, "smart mice" showed a greater capacity than normal mice when recognizing another mouse that had been introduced the day before. They were also faster in learning the location of a hidden escape platform in a test called Morris's water maze. However, inhibited PDE4B mice also showed less memory of a terrible event after several days compared to normal mice.
the experiments also showed that mice with the inhibited PDE4B enzyme suffered less anxiety, they preferred to spend more time in open spaces, with more light than normal mice, who opted for dark closed spaces. And although the mice are naturally afraid of cats, the modified mice responded with less fear of cat urine, which suggests that the inhibition of PDE4B could increase risk behaviors. As the lead author of the work and Professor of Pharmacology at the University of Leeds (United Kingdom) explains Steve Clapcote:
Our work with mice has identified phosphodiesterase-4B as a promising target for potential new treatments.
Published results are limited to mice and have not been tested in humans, but PDE4B is present in humans. So the research sheds light on the molecular basis of learning and memory and could serve as a basis for research into new treatments for age-related cognitive impairment and cognitive disorders such as schizophrenia and Alzheimer's.
Researchers are now working on the development of drugs that specifically inhibit PDE4B. These medications will be tested on animals to check if any could be suitable for clinical trials in humans.