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Measuring electrical activity in the brain may help in development of drug therapies for Fragile X

Updated: Mar 1, 2022

A young girl having her EEG recordings taken at the Patrick Wild Centre

Electroencephalography (EEG) is a non-invasive way to monitor electrical activity in the brain. To measure this activity, the person wears a cap made of sensors that fits comfortably on the head (see image). Researchers have used EEG to measure electrical activity patterns in children and adults with Fragile X Syndrome (FXS) to understand how these patterns differ from those of people without FXS. They found that in FXS, the brain responded differently to sounds, suggesting that FXS may cause a hyper-sensitivity to sound. This electrical pattern, which is different in FXS, might be used as a biomarker. Biomarkers are biological indicators of a syndrome, which could be used as targets for treatments. Using EEG to measure this biomarker and others could be of great benefit when conducting treatment trials for FXS.

Potential medicines for FXS are first tested in mice during pre-clinical phases. If mice show improvements in FXS-specific features and behaviours, the medicines are likely to move to the clinical trial phase where they are tested in people. Unfortunately, people in such trials often fail to show the same type and degree of improvements as mice do. Researchers at the Patrick Wild Centre highlight this issue in their newly published research article and suggest a probable cause: the features targeted by medicines may not be similar enough between mice and humans. Patterns of electrical activity, however, are quite similar between the two and may be a better tool for developing and testing medicines.

Recent trials of a promising medicine called Minocycline provides evidence that using EEG may be a reliable way to assess the therapeutic potential of new treatments for FXS. In these trials, mice and children with FXS that received Minocycline treatment showed electrical brain responses to sound which were similar to people and mice without FXS. These results suggest that Minocycline might improve FXS-specific features. Adults with FXS also show improved language, attention, and social communication skills alongside reduced irritability and problem behaviours after treatment with Minocycline.

Altogether, these findings support the use of EEG as a reliable measure and predictor of therapeutic success in the drug discovery process. It is hoped that EEG will play a more prominent role in future research, particularly in that which explores drugs like Minocycline as safe and effective treatments for FXS.

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Emma Mather-Pike

Research Information Manager

Fragile X Society

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