In Daniel Keyes' 1966 novel Flowers for Algernon (Harcourt), an experimental treatment gives a mouse and a learning-disabled man increased intellectual abilities. Real-life researchers, too, have strived to develop effective treatments for learning-disabled people. Now, a study in mice suggests that a drug for high cholesterol may reverse learning deficits caused by a common genetic disease.
The disease, known as neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1), affects an estimated 1 in 3,000 people worldwide. Along with various physical symptoms, people with this disorder frequently have learning, memory, and attention problems. "Currently, there are no good treatment options for these people," says Alcino Silva of the University of California, Los Angeles.
Research has shown that people with NF1 produce too much of a protein called Ras, which regulates how nerve cells communicate. Because the functioning of Ras requires fatty molecules called lipids, Silva and his colleagues