UT Southwestern Medical Center researchers have developed a new mouse model for autism. Studies on humans have shown an association between autism and mutations in a protein called neuroligin-3. The researchers engineered mice with a similar mutation.
These mice were socially impaired. What they mean by that is that the mice spent the same amount of time as control mice interacting with a novel inanimate object, but spent less time than controls interacting with a novel caged mouse. There was no change if the other mouse was not kept apart from the mutant mouse, presumably because the other mouse took the social initiative. I wonder what would have happened if they put two mutant mice together...would they ignore each other? (They don't seem to have performed that experiment.)
The mutant mice were also smarter. They performed better in tests of spatial memory, like remembering where an object is.
The neuroligin-3 knockout mouse model is a much better model than this one, which had a lot of other problems.
They say it is a model for autism spectrum disorders, but I think it's more specifically a model for Asperger's syndrome (which is on the autism spectrum). Many Aspergians don't fit into our concept of normal socialization; they would rather spend time with inanimate objects than other people. They are also often cognitively gifted.
So the mice are better at one task and worse at another. Does that make them impaired, abnormal, disabled...or just different?