Neuronal cytoskeletal gene dysregulation and mechanical hypersensitivity in a rat model of Rett syndrome [Neuroscience]
Children with Rett syndrome show abnormal cutaneous sensitivity. The precise nature of sensory abnormalities and underlying molecular mechanisms remain largely unknown. Rats with methyl-CpG binding protein 2 (MeCP2) mutation, characteristic of Rett syndrome, show hypersensitivity to pressure and cold, but hyposensitivity to heat. They also show cutaneous hyperinnervation by nonpeptidergic sensory axons, which include subpopulations encoding noxious mechanical and cold stimuli, whereas peptidergic thermosensory innervation is reduced. MeCP2 knockdown confined to dorsal root ganglion sensory neurons replicated this phenotype in vivo, and cultured MeCP2-deficient ganglion neurons showed augmented axonogenesis. Transcriptome analysis revealed dysregulation of genes associated with cytoskeletal dynamics, particularly those controlling actin polymerization and focal-adhesion formation necessary for axon growth and mechanosensory transduction. Down-regulation of these genes by topoisomerase inhibition prevented abnormal axon sprouting. We identified eight key affected genes controlling actin signaling and adhesion formation, including members of the Arhgap, Tiam, and cadherin families. Simultaneous virally mediated knockdown of these genes in Rett rats prevented sensory hyperinnervation and reversed mechanical hypersensitivity, indicating a causal role in abnormal outgrowth and sensitivity. Thus, MeCP2 regulates ganglion neuronal genes controlling cytoskeletal dynamics, which in turn determines axon outgrowth and mechanosensory function and may contribute to altered pain sensitivity in Rett syndrome.
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