Two previous studies have shown that boys with NF1 are at higher risk of learning disorders than girls, including spatial learning and memory problems. To look for the causes of this gender-related difference, the scientists first confirmed that Nf1 mice had learning problems by testing the ability of the mice to find a hidden platform after training. After multiple trials, female Nf1 mice quickly found the hidden platform. In striking contrast, the male Nf1 mice did not, revealing that they had deficits in spatial learning and memory.
When the researchers examined the brain regions involved in learning and memory in the Nf1 mice, they identified biochemical abnormalities in the males but not in the females.
"We're currently working to determine whether differences in the sex hormones are responsible for these abnormalities in vision and memory," Gutmann said. "We're talking about a disorder in young kids and in mice, where we normally would not expect sex hormones to play a major role, but we can't rule them out yet."
If hormones are responsible for these gender-linked distinctions in NF1, treatments that block hormonal function may be an option for use in patients with NF1, Gutmann added.
"Moreover, these studies identify sex as one important factor that helps to predict clinical outcomes, such as vision loss and problems in cognitive function, in children with NF1," Gutmann said. "Further understanding of the interplay between sex and NF1 may change the way we manage individuals with this common brain tumor predisposition syndrome."
|Contact: Michael C. Purdy|
Washington University School of Medicine