Mice with a genetic mutation in the gene called KCND2 showed improved cognitive flexibility. They were able to adapt faster to changing situations than mice without the mutation. The discovery was made by researchers at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD). The findings were published in the journal Nature Communications.
The KCND2 Gene
The gene KCND2 carries the genetic instruction that codes for a protein (the KCND2 protein) that regulates potassium channels. These potassium channels regulate the electrical impulses that travel along neurons. These electrical signals stimulate chemical messengers that jump from neuron to neuron.
Mutation Improves Cognitive Flexibility
When the KCND2 protein is modified by certain enzymes, it actually slows down the electrical impulses traveling along the neurons. When a single base pair mutation occurs in the KCND2 gene, it actually enhanced the ability of the protein to dampen nerve impulses.
When mice have this mutation, they exhibited improved cognitive flexibility compared to mice without the mutation. In the study, mice were trained to swim and find a slightly submerged platform. When the platform was moved, mice with the mutation found the platform faster. In short, the were able to adapt faster to a changing situation.
Helping Understand Cognitive Flexibility in People
By learning more about this mutation and the KCND2 genes, researchers hope to have new insights into the cognitive flexibility in people. Also, future findings may help improve understanding of epilepsy, schizophrenia, Fragile X syndrome, and autism spectrum disorder, which all have been associated with other mutations in KCND2.