Neuroscientist Guoping Feng and his colleagues had a simple plan. They would breed mice lacking a particular gene in order to probe the brain effects of the protein produced by that gene. To the scientists' surprise, they found that these gene-deprived animals provide a rudimentary rodent model of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), a poorly understood psychiatric ailment that affects nearly 1 in 50 people.
The team, primarily from Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C., reports that mice missing this gene appear to be fine for their first 4 to 6 months. Then they begin to groom themselves excessively, which results in hair loss and skin injuries. They also display heightened anxiety. Compared with genetically intact mice, the gene-deprived animals are slower to enter and quicker to exit risky settings, such as open spaces.