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In Praise of the Tripping Mouse

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In Praise of the Tripping Mouse

In a recent Lucid News story about the drug development company Gilgamesh Pharmaceutical, founder and chief executive Jonathan Sporn noted that the company is working with researchers at the Harvard University’s Datta Lab to test new compounds on mice and record their reactions on video.”They rear, they turn, they do all kinds of things,” said Sporn. “They’re tripping.” 

Researchers analyze mouse videos using artificial intelligence to classify their behaviors, which they say is more accurate than relying on human observers. Past measures of mouse response considered less precise include counting their head twitches and reactions to stressful situations – such as dunking them in water to see how vigorously they try to swim. This makes me wonder about mouse consent and aftercare and whether the heroic rodents get a towel and a hug after swimming on our behalf. 

Investigating treatments for depression. Research into LSD-based compounds have shown that while a depressed mouse tends to give up quickly when dangled by its tail, the same mouse will keep struggling if it gets an antidepressant drug like Prozac, ketamine, psilocybin and the experimental molecules in question. Even NPR could not resist writing a subhead for their coverage entitled “How to tell when a mouse is tripping.” 

Scientists at UC Santa Cruz also worked with mice to test a novel compound called tabernanthalog (TBG) which is similar to ibogaine. TBG was found to effectively correct stress-induced anxiety and “cognitive inflexibility” while promoting “regrowth of neuronal connections and restoring neural circuits in the brain.” The researchers noted how central mice and other creatures are to drug research and that animal studies that comply with NIH regulations and its Institutional Animal Care and Use Committees “remain vital to investigating complex psychiatric disorders.” 

Implanted neuropixels. Gilgamesh says they are working with researchers who implant tiny silicon probes called neuropixels into the brains of mice to record the electrical activity of neurons simultaneously firing across multiple brain regions. Scientists are looking to see how these signaling patterns detected by Neuropixel probes might change in response to various treatments. They seek to better differentiate the effects of closely related compounds and their potential effects on neuroplasticity. 

Senior researchers in the field say they expect to see these technologies increasingly used in drug discovery platforms. It seems plausible to imagine a future when human research subjects agree to implanted neuropixels to gather data for FDA-approved drug research. If they swim hard when tossed in the pool we’ll know the compound might be effective.

Trending is a series of news analysis essays by the Lucid News editorial team that appear weekly in our newsletter. To read past newsletters, and to subscribe, click here.

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