Models of RLS Behavior and Biology
Once we understand the genetic issues and the potential biology behind RLS, we must determine how to translate these findings into treatment and management options for the patient. Models using animals or brain cells in cultures, help us to do so – they are our future for translational medicine.
RLS models will help us gain understanding of how the affected genes relate to other genes and interact with an adult brain. They will display the responses of genes to epigenetic factors. In the models, we will be able to examine questions, collect data, and grow a tangible, viable, and operationally significant system dynamic of the underlying biology and potential pathophysiology behind RLS.
We also have the potential to use behavioral models to make progress in our knowledge of RLS. We have already developed such a model. How do we know that an animal has restless legs syndrome, you might ask. There are several important features of restless legs syndrome that can be modeled in animals, specifically decreased rest and increased activity during a restricted period of night. We identified such behavior in a specific mouse strain by screening hundreds of mice with natural genetic variations. The behavior that this strain of mice exhibits worsens when the animal is made iron deficient, and dramatically improves when the animal is given dopamine-related drugs. This reaction mimics exactly what is seen in patients with RLS.
Our model provides, for the first time, a chance to actually test new drugs for this disease.