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J Neurosci. 2010 Apr 14;30(15):5303-10. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.5503-09.2010.

Exogenous brain-derived neurotrophic factor rescues synaptic dysfunction in Mecp2-null mice.

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Department of Biomedical Sciences and Dalton Cardiovascular Research Center, University of Missouri, Columbia, Missouri 65211, USA.


Postnatal deficits in brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) are thought to contribute to pathogenesis of Rett syndrome (RTT), a progressive neurodevelopmental disorder caused by mutations in the gene encoding methyl-CpG-binding protein 2 (MeCP2). In Mecp2-null mice, a model of RTT, BDNF deficits are most pronounced in structures important for autonomic and respiratory control, functions that are severely affected in RTT patients. However, relatively little is known about how these deficits affect neuronal function or how they may be linked to specific RTT endophenotypes. To approach these issues, we analyzed synaptic function in the brainstem nucleus tractus solitarius (nTS), the principal site for integration of primary visceral afferent inputs to central autonomic pathways and a region in which we found markedly reduced levels of BDNF in Mecp2 mutants. Our results demonstrate that the amplitude of spontaneous miniature and evoked EPSCs in nTS neurons is significantly increased in Mecp2-null mice and, accordingly, that mutant cells are more likely than wild- type cells to fire action potentials in response to primary afferent stimulation. These changes occur without any increase in intrinsic neuronal excitability and are unaffected by blockade of inhibitory GABA currents. However, this synaptopathy is associated with decreased BDNF availability in the primary afferent pathway and can be rescued by application of exogenous BDNF. On the basis of these findings, we hypothesize that altered sensory gating in nTS contributes to cardiorespiratory instability in RTT and that nTS is a site at which restoration of normal BDNF signaling could help reestablish normal homeostatic controls.

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