Scientists mistakenly turn hamsters into aggressive 'monsters'

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Scientists mistakenly turn hamsters into aggressive "monsters" /></p > Unsplash “Actually, we don't understand this system as well as we thought”.</p><p style=Scientists have been using for several years a biotechnology tool developed by the Frenchwoman Emmanuelle Charpentier and the American Jennifer Doudna, double Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2020. This technique makes it possible to genetically modify animals to make them acquire different characteristics and aptitudes. But a recent experiment has shown that this revolutionary scientific advance, which allows genes to be activated or deactivated in cells, can produce unexpected results. That's what happened to a team of neuroscientists who turned hamsters into aggressive “monsters”.

CRISPR-Cas9: Breakthrough Technology

In a statement, researchers from Georgia State University (GSU) in the United States pointed out that their new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) aimed to use CRISPR-Cas9 gene silencing technology. in cells, to eliminate a receptor for vasopressin, a hormone associated with increased aggression, to make hamsters more social and peaceful. This gene is believed to regulate behaviors such as mutual aid and cooperation. The scientists were convinced that these positive behaviors would be amplified by deactivating the production of vasopressin.

Chase the natural…

But to their surprise, the docile animals became more aggressive. One of the study's principal investigators, H. Elliot Albers, said, “We predicted that if we eliminated vasopressin activity, we would reduce both aggression and social communication. But the opposite happened.”

The hamsters developed aggressive behaviors including chasing, biting and “pinning” , according to the study.This could be explained by the fact that the altered hamsters (without the vasopressin receptor) showed “much higher levels”social communication behavior than their counterparts with intact receptors. Additionally, the team observed that the typical sex differences seen in aggression were eliminated; both male and female hamsters displaying “high levels of aggression” towards other individuals of the same sex.

The researchers therefore concluded that although vasopressin (Avpr1) increases aggression by acting in a number of brain regions, it is possible that the more global effects of the Avpr1a receptor are inhibitory. “In fact, we don't understand this system as well as we thought”, they confessed.

Vasopressin, also important in human behavior

Produced by certain brain neurons, vasopressin regulates various functions such as thirst and blood pressure, but also plays a role in social interactions. In humans, vasopressin is suspected to play a role in autism spectrum disorder and social anxiety. In 2019, an American clinical trial showed that a vasopressin nasal spray improved certain symptoms in children with autism spectrum disorder. Scientists are now highlighting the need for a better understanding of the role of this hormone in social behavior, to better develop new treatment strategies for psychiatric disorders in humans, ranging from autism to depression.