Mechanisms and therapeutic challenges in autism spectrum disorders: insights from Rett syndrome
ABSTRACT A major challenge for understanding neurodevelopmental disorders, including autism spectrum disorders (ASDs), is to advance the findings from gene discovery to an exposition of neurobiological mechanisms that underlie these disorders and subsequently translate this knowledge into mechanism-based therapeutics. A promising way to proceed is revealed by the recent studies of rare subsets of ASDs. In this review, we summarize the latest advances in the mechanisms and emerging therapeutics for a rare single-gene ASD, Rett syndrome.
Rett syndrome is caused by mutations in the gene coding for methyl CpG-binding protein 2 (MeCP2). Although MeCP2 has diverse functions, examination of MeCP2 mutant mice suggests the hypothesis that MeCP2 deficiency leads to aberrant maturation and maintenance of synapses and circuits in multiple brain systems. Some of the deficits arise from alterations in specific intracellular pathways such as the PI3K/Akt signaling pathway. These abnormalities can be at least partially rescued in MeCP2 mutant mice by treatment with therapeutic agents.
Mechanism-based therapeutics are emerging for single-gene neurodevelopmental disorders such as Rett syndrome. Given the complexity of MeCP2 function, future directions include combination therapeutics that target multiple molecules and pathways. Such approaches will likely be applicable to other ASDs as well.
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ABSTRACT: Alterations in the expression of Methyl-CpG-binding protein 2 (MeCP2) either by mutations or gene duplication leads to a wide spectrum of neurodevelopmental disorders including Rett Syndrome and MeCP2 duplication disorder. Common features of Rett Syndrome (RTT), MeCP2 duplication disorder, and neuropsychiatric disorders indicate that even moderate changes in MeCP2 protein levels result in functional and structural cell abnormalities. In this study, we investigated two areas of MeCP2 pathophysiology using Drosophila as a model system: the effects of MeCP2 glial gain-of-function activity on circuits controlling sleep behavior, and the cell-type specific regulation of MeCP2 expression. In this study, we first examined the effects of elevated MeCP2 levels on microcircuits by expressing human MeCP2 (hMeCP2) in astrocytes and distinct subsets of amine neurons including dopamine and octopamine (OA) neurons. Depending on the cell-type, hMeCP2 expression reduced sleep levels, altered daytime/nighttime sleep patterns, and generated sleep maintenance deficits. Second, we identified a 498 base pair region of the MeCP2e2 isoform that is targeted for regulation in distinct subsets of astrocytes. Levels of the full-length hMeCP2e2 and mutant RTT R106W protein decreased in astrocytes in a temporally and spatially regulated manner. In contrast, expression of the deletion Δ166 hMeCP2 protein was not altered in the entire astrocyte population. qPCR experiments revealed a reduction in full-length hMeCP2e2 transcript levels suggesting transgenic hMeCP2 expression is regulated at the transcriptional level. Given the phenotypic complexities that are caused by alterations in MeCP2 levels, our results provide insight into distinct cellular mechanisms that control MeCP2 expression and link microcircuit abnormalities with defined behavioral deficits.10/2014; DOI:10.1242/bio.20149092
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ABSTRACT: Over the past 30 years, lysine acetylation of histone and nonhistone proteins has become established as a key modulator of gene expression regulating numerous aspects of cell biology. Neuronal growth and plasticity are no exception; roles for lysine acetylation and deacetylation in brain function and dysfunction continue to be uncovered. Transcriptional programs coupling synaptic activity to changes in gene expression are critical to the plasticity mechanisms underlying higher brain functions. These transcriptional programs can be modulated by changes in histone acetylation, and in many cases, transcription factors and histone-modifying enzymes are recruited together to plasticity-associated genes. Lysine acetylation, catalyzed by lysine acetyltransferases (KATs), generally promotes cognitive performance, whereas the opposing process, catalyzed by histone lysine deacetylases (HDACs), appears to negatively regulate cognition in multiple brain regions. Consistently, mutation or deregulation of different KATs or HDACs contributes to neurological dysfunction and neurodegeneration. HDAC inhibitors have shown promise as a treatment to combat the cognitive decline associated with aging and neurodegenerative disease, as well as to ameliorate the symptoms of depression and posttraumatic stress disorder, among others. In this review, we discuss the evidence for the roles of HDACs in cognitive function as well as in neurological disorders and disease. In particular, we focus on HDAC2, which plays a central role in coupling lysine acetylation to synaptic plasticity and mediates many of the effects of HDAC inhibition in cognition and disease. Copyright © 2014, American Association for the Advancement of Science.Science Signaling 12/2014; 7(355):re12. DOI:10.1126/scisignal.aaa0069 · 7.65 Impact Factor
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ABSTRACT: In the field of molecular and cellular neuroscience, it is not a trivial task to see the forest for the trees, where numerous, and seemingly independent, molecules often work in concert to control critical steps of synaptic plasticity and signalling. Here, we will first summarize our current knowledge on essential activity-dependent transcription factors (TFs) such as CREB, MEF2, Npas4 and SRF, then examine how various transcription cofactors (TcoFs) also contribute to defining the transcriptional outputs during learning and memory. This review finally attempts a provisory synthesis that sheds new light on some of the emerging principles of neuronal circuit dynamics that are driven by activity-regulated gene transcription to help better understand the intricate relationship between activity-dependent gene expression and cognitive behavior.Neurobiology of Learning and Memory 08/2014; 115. DOI:10.1016/j.nlm.2014.08.010 · 4.04 Impact Factor