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J Neurosci. 2009 Sep 30;29(39):12187-95. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3156-09.2009.

Pathophysiology of locus ceruleus neurons in a mouse model of Rett syndrome.

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Department of Biology and National Center for Behavioral Genomics, Brandeis University, Waltham, Massachusetts 02454, USA.


Rett syndrome (RTT) is a neurodevelopmental disorder caused by loss-of-function mutations in the Methyl-CpG-binding protein-2 (MECP2) gene and is characterized by derangements in cognition, behavior, motor control, respiration and autonomic homeostasis, as well as seizures. Deficits in norepinephrine (NE) are thought to contribute to RTT pathogenesis, but little is known about how MeCP2 regulates function of noradrenergic neurons. We therefore characterized morphological, electrical, and neurochemical properties of neurons in the locus ceruleus (LC), the major source of noradrenergic innervation to the central neuraxis, in Mecp2 mutant mice. We found that MeCP2 null LC neurons are electrically hyperexcitable, smaller in size, and express less of the NE-synthesizing enzyme tyrosine hydroxylase (TH) compared with wild-type neurons. Increased excitability of mutant neurons is associated with reductions in passive membrane conductance and the amplitude of the slow afterhyperpolarization. Studies in Mecp2 heterozygotes, which are mosaic for the null allele, demonstrated that electrical hyperexcitability and reduced neuronal size are cell-autonomous consequences of MeCP2 loss, whereas reduced TH expression appears to reflect both cell-autonomous and non-autonomous influences. Finally, we found reduced levels of TH and norepinephrine in cingulate cortex, a forebrain target of the LC. Thus, genetic loss of MeCP2 results in a somewhat paradoxical LC neuron phenotype, characterized by both electrical hyperexcitability and reduced indices of noradrenergic function. Given the importance of the LC in modulating activity in brainstem and forebrain networks, we hypothesize that dysregulation of LC function in the absence of MeCP2 plays a key role in the pathophysiology of RTT.

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