Rare Discovery: How a Gene Mutation Causes Higher Intelligence
Published:12 May2022    Source:Universit√§t Leipzig
The interest of the two neurobiologists Professor Tobias Langenhan and Professor Manfred Heckmann, from Leipzig and Würzburg respectively, was aroused when they read in a scientific publication about a mutation that damages a synaptic protein. At first, the affected patients attracted scientists' attention because the mutation caused them to go blind. However, doctors then noticed that the patients were also of above-average intelligence. "It's very rare for a mutation to lead to improvement rather than loss of function," says Langenhan, professor and holder of a chair at the Rudolf Schönheimer Institute of Biochemistry at the Faculty of Medicine.

The two neurobiologists from Leipzig and Würzburg have been using fruit flies to analyse synaptic functions for many years. "Our research project was designed to insert the patients' mutation into the corresponding gene in the fly and use techniques such as electrophysiology to test what then happens to the synapses. It was our assumption that the mutation makes patients so clever because it improves communication between the neurons which involve the injured protein," explains Langenhan. "Of course, you can't conduct these measurements on the synapses in the brains of human patients. You have to use animal models for that."