“Aha” moments are rare in medical research, scientists say. As rare, they add, as finding mice with Mohawk-like hairstyles. But both events happened in a lab at NYU Langone Medical Center, months after an international team of neuroscientists bred hundreds of mice with a suspect genetic mutation tied to autism spectrum disorders.
Almost all the grown mice, the NYU Langone team observed, had sideways,”overgroomed” hair with a highly stylized center hairline between their ears and hardly a tuft elsewhere. Mice typically groom each other’s hair.
Researchers say they knew instantly they were on to something, as the telltale overgrooming—a repetitive motor behavior—had been linked in other experiments in mice to the brain condition that prevents children from developing normal social, behavioral, cognitive, and motor skills. People with autism, the researchers point out, exhibit noticeably dysfunctional behaviors, such as withdrawal, and stereotypical, repetitive movements, including constant hand-flapping, or rocking.