MeCP2 is required for activity-dependent refinement of olfactory circuits
Methyl CpG binding protein 2 (MeCP2) is a structural chromosomal protein involved in the regulation of gene expression. Alterations in the levels of MeCP2 have been related to neurodevelopmental disorders. Studies in mouse models of MeCP2 deficiency have demonstrated that this protein is important for neuronal maturation, neurite complexity, synaptogenesis, and synaptic plasticity. However, the mechanisms by which MeCP2 dysfunction leads to neurodevelopmental defects, and the role of activity, remain unclear, as most studies examine the adult nervous system, which may obfuscate the primary consequences of MeCP2 mutation. We hypothesize that MeCP2 plays a role during the formation and activity-driven maturation of neural circuits at early postnatal stages. To test this hypothesis, we use the olfactory system as a neurodevelopmental model. This system undergoes postnatal neurogenesis; axons from olfactory neurons form highly stereotyped projections to higher-order neurons, facilitating the detection of possible defects in the establishment of connectivity. In vivo olfactory stimulation paradigms were used to produce physiological synaptic activity in gene-targeted mice in which specific olfactory circuits are visualized. Our results reveal defective postnatal refinement of olfactory circuits in Mecp2 knock out (KO) mice after sensory (odorant) stimulation. This failure in refinement was associated with deficits in the normal responses to odorants, including brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) production, as well as changes in adhesion molecules known to regulate axonal convergence. The defective refinement observed in Mecp2 KO mice was prevented by daily treatment with ampakine beginning after the first postnatal week. These observations indicate that increasing synaptic activity at early postnatal stage might circumvent the detrimental effect of MeCP2 deficiency on circuitry maturation. The present results provide in vivo evidence in real time for the role of MeCP2 in activity-dependent maturation of olfactory circuitry, with implications for understanding the mechanism of MeCP2 mutations in the development of neural connectivity.
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