When the locus coeruleus broke down in the study’s mice, the animals failed at simple cognitive tests that required them to be aware of changes in the milieu: For instance, the genetically engineered mice, when placed in the strange environment of an unknown cage, did not build nests. That contrasts with normal mice, which typically build nests in such circumstances.
However, by giving norepinephrine precursors to the mice with the Down-syndrome-like condition, the researchers could fix the problem. Only a few hours after they got the drugs, which were converted to norepinephrine in the brain, these mice were just as good at nest-building and related cognitive tests as normal mice. Direct examination of neurons in the hippocampus of the genetically altered mice showed that these cells responded well to norepinephrine.
“We were very surprised to see that, wow, it worked so fast,” Salehi said. The drugs’ effect also wore off relatively quickly, he added. (via.)
I’ve plugged the fact before that there’s a common anecdote about autistic children’s behavior being temporarily altered by fevers.
I ran across this interesting article on the brain region known as the “locus coeruleus” which apparently creates noradrenaline.
“The LC-NA system is the only brain system involved both in producing fever and controlling behavior,” says co-author Dominick P. Purpura, M.D., dean emeritus and distinguished professor of neuroscience at Einstein.
The locus coeruleus has widespread connections to brain regions that process sensory information. It secretes most of the brain’s noradrenaline, a neurotransmitter that plays a key role in arousal mechanisms, such as the “fight or flight” response. It is also involved in a variety of complex behaviors, such as attentional focusing (the ability to concentrate attention on environmental cues relevant to the task in hand, or to switch attention from one task to another). Poor attentional focusing is a defining characteristic of autism. (via.)