[Paleopsych] Reuters: Gene Blocker Turns Monkeys Into Workaholics
checker at panix.com
Thu Aug 12 12:52:20 UTC 2004
Gene Blocker Turns Monkeys Into Workaholics
[New medications for Adult Procrastination Disorder can't be far away now.
A great many bureaucrats can be characterized by the disorders mentioned
in the last paragraph, though usually in not so extreme a form.]
Aug. 11, 2004 - WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Procrastinating monkeys were
turned into workaholics using a gene treatment to block a key brain
compound, U.S. researchers reported on Wednesday.
Blocking cells from receiving dopamine made the monkeys work harder at
a task -- and they were better at it, too, the U.S. government researchers
Dr. Barry Richmond and colleagues at the National Institute of Mental
Health used a new genetic technique to block the D2 gene.
"The gene makes a receptor for a key brain messenger chemical,
dopamine," Richmond said in a statement. Dopamine is a message carrying
chemical associated with rewards, movement and a variety of other important
"The gene knockdown triggered a remarkable transformation in the
simian work ethic. Like many of us, monkeys normally slack off initially in
working toward a distant goal," he added.
For their study, Richmond and colleague used seven rhesus monkeys.
They had to push a lever in response to visual cues on a projection screen,
and got a drop of water as a reward.
"They work more efficiently -- make fewer errors -- as they get closer
to being rewarded. But without the dopamine receptor, they consistently
stayed on-task and made few errors, because they could no longer learn to
use visual cues to predict how their work was going to get them a reward."
Writing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,
Richmond and colleagues said they were trying to figure out how D2 is
involved in a type of learning.
Humans and monkeys both use this learning, which involves looking at
how much work there is, visually, and deciding how long it will take to
Monkeys and humans both tend to wait until the last possible minute to
finish up the work, and become very adept at estimating how long they have.
Molecular geneticist Edward Ginns created a DNA antisense agent that
tricked brain cells into turning off their D2 receptors -- which are
molecular doorways used by dopamine to get into cells.
Antisense involves making a kind of mirror image molecule that looks
like a strand of DNA and works to block a gene's action.
Although some employers might take a distinct interest in the work,
the NIMH team said they are hoping to understand mental illness.
"In this case, it's worth noting that the ability to associate work
with reward is disturbed in mental disorders, including schizophrenia, mood
disorders and obsessive-compulsive disorder, so our finding of the pivotal
role played by this gene and circuit may be of clinical interest," Richmond
"For example, people who are depressed often feel nothing is worth the
work. People with obsessive-compulsive disorder work incessantly; even when
they get rewarded they feel they must repeat the task. In mania, people will
work feverishly for rewards that aren't worth the trouble to most of us."
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