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Tufts University School of Medicine

Getting to the Roots of Fragile X Syndrome

Trials of fragile X syndrome treatments based on neuron studies have failed so far, says Yongjie Yang, associate professor. “Our glia/astroglia perspective gives a fresh view to search for new targets,” he says. Photo: Kelvin Ma
Wednesday, October 21, 2020 - 8:00pm

The cause of fragile X syndrome (FXS), the most common inherited intellectual disability, is easy to see in the lab. Under electron microscopy, an affected X chromosome exhibits a deformed tip that gives the disorder its name and pinpoints the causative gene malfunction. There’s no cure for the disease, whose symptoms include learning deficits and hyperactivity and which has been linked with autism. FXS occurs in 1 in 4,000 to 7,000 males and 1 in 8,000 to 11,000 females in the United States.

Most research on FXS has focused on the brain’s neurons, the cells that transmit electrical and chemical impulses. But for a decade Yongjie Yang, associate professor of neuroscience at Tufts University School of Medicine, has pursued a different path, investigating the involvement of glia cells, particularly astroglia, which support neuron function and make up more than half the brain. In the past month, he’s published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) and Glia. Tufts Now spoke with Yang about his work.

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