Gene Overlap In Body Weight, Motor Coordination Provides Better Understanding Of Neurodegenerative Illness

First Posted: Nov 16, 2015 05:46 PM EST

Impaired motor coordination is a symptom of some neurodegenerative illnesses, including Alzheimer's disease (AD) and Parkinson's disease (PD). Yet could motor coordination also be linked to body weight?

Researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found genes that affected both in mice, which may shed light on the onset of some neurodegenerative illnesses in humans, according to a new study. 

Researchers recorded the body weights of mice while examining their ability to balance on a rotating rod that spins--otherwise known as a rotarod--until the mice fell off at different speeds. They specifically used a genetically diverse set of rodents bred under a model known as the Collaborative Cross.

"When using this very diverse set of mice, it mimics the human population in their genetic diversity," lead study author Antoine Snijders, a biologist and research scientist in the Berkeley Lab, told Science World Report. "But in using these mice, we were also able to control their environment."

The study results showed that heavier mice were more likely to have difficulties with balance and motor performance. However, at this time, researchers can't say for certain if genes alone are responsible for body weight and/or rotarod performance, or, perhaps, if heavier mice have limited mobility due to their weight (or vice versa).

"What we observed is that there is this one variation in not only body weight but also in their performance on the rotarod," said Snijders. "They were actually very strongly negatively correlated so that the bigger the mouse, the worse the performance was on the rotarod so the sooner they fell off even at slower speeds."

genetic analysis that examined potential overlaps between the factors showed 14 regions in the mouse genome associated with body weight and 45 genes associated with rotarod performance--seven of which overlapped.

Researchers also discovered 103 mouse genes in regions linked to rotarod performance, while body weight overlapped with 1,766 human genes associated with body weight and neurodegenerative diseases in humans. Seven genes linked to AD were also present in regions of mice genes while 48 human genes linked with obesity showed a significant influence on rotarod performance in mice.

"We have this overlap between genes that contribute to body weight and genes that control motor performance and those same genes seem to be in the human population contributing to obesity and neurodegenerative disease."

The study is published in the journal Scientific Reports

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