Publications by authors named "Bianca De Filippis"

32 Publications

Treatment with the Bacterial Toxin CNF1 Selectively Rescues Cognitive and Brain Mitochondrial Deficits in a Female Mouse Model of Rett Syndrome Carrying a MeCP2-Null Mutation.

Int J Mol Sci 2021 Jun 23;22(13). Epub 2021 Jun 23.

Center for Behavioral Sciences and Mental Health, Istituto Superiore di Sanità, 00161 Rome, Italy.

Rett syndrome (RTT) is a rare neurological disorder caused by mutations in the X-linked gene and a major cause of intellectual disability in females. No cure exists for RTT. We previously reported that the behavioural phenotype and brain mitochondria dysfunction are widely rescued by a single intracerebroventricular injection of the bacterial toxin CNF1 in a RTT mouse model carrying a truncating mutation of the gene (MeCP2-308 mice). Given the heterogeneity of mutations in RTT patients, we tested the CNF1 therapeutic efficacy in a mouse model carrying a null mutation (MeCP2-Bird mice). CNF1 selectively rescued cognitive defects, without improving other RTT-related behavioural alterations, and restored brain mitochondrial respiratory chain complex activity in MeCP2-Bird mice. To shed light on the molecular mechanisms underlying the differential CNF1 effects on the behavioural phenotype, we compared treatment effects on relevant signalling cascades in the brain of the two RTT models. CNF1 provided a significant boost of the mTOR activation in MeCP2-308 hippocampus, which was not observed in the MeCP2-Bird model, possibly explaining the differential effects of CNF1. These results demonstrate that CNF1 efficacy depends on the mutation beared by MeCP2-mutated mice, stressing the need of testing potential therapeutic approaches across RTT models.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.3390/ijms22136739DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8269120PMC
June 2021

Methyl-CpG binding protein 2 dysfunction provides stress vulnerability with sex- and zygosity-dependent outcomes.

Eur J Neurosci 2021 Mar 2. Epub 2021 Mar 2.

Center for Behavioral Sciences and Mental Health, Istituto Superiore di Sanità, Rome, Italy.

Stress vulnerability is a critical factor for the development of trauma-related disorders; however, its biological underpinnings are not clear. We demonstrated that dysfunctions in the X-linked epigenetic factor methyl-CpG binding protein 2 (MeCP2) provide trauma vulnerability in male mice. Given the prominent role of sex in stress outcomes, we explored the effects of MeCP2 hypofunctionality in females. Female mice carrying truncated MeCP2 (heterozygous and homozygous) and wild type controls (wt) were tested for fear memory. Stress-induced corticosterone release and brain expression of hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis regulatory genes were also evaluated in wt and mutant mice of both sexes. Although heterozygous females displayed a normal stress-related behavioural profile, homozygous mice showed enhanced memory recall for the threatening context compared to wt, thus recapitulating the phenotype previously evidenced in hemizygous males. Interestingly, MeCP2 truncation abolished the sex differences in stress-induced corticosterone release, which was found increased in mutant males, whereas blunted in mutant females in a zygosity-independent manner. Although heterozygous mice did not differ from controls, homozygous females and hemizygous males showed increased hypotalamic Crh and Avp mRNAs and a differentially altered expression of Fkbp5 in cortical areas. Present results demonstrate that in female mice carrying truncated MeCP2, altered stress responsivity is driven by homozygosity, whereas heterozygosity does not lead to maladaptive stress outcomes. MeCP2 dysfunctions thus provide stress vulnerability in mice with sex- and zygosity-dependent outcomes.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/ejn.15165DOI Listing
March 2021

Stimulation of the Serotonin Receptor 7 Restores Brain Histone H3 Acetylation and MeCP2 Corepressor Protein Levels in a Female Mouse Model of Rett Syndrome.

J Neuropathol Exp Neurol 2021 Feb;80(3):265-273

Center for Behavioral Sciences and Mental Health, Istituto Superiore di Sanità, Roma, Italy.

Rett syndrome (RTT) is a rare neurological disorder caused by mutations in the X-linked MECP2 gene, characterized by severe behavioral and physiological impairments for which no cure is available. The stimulation of serotonin receptor 7 (5-HT7R) with its selective agonist LP-211 (0.25 mg/kg/day for 7 days) was proved to rescue neurobehavioral alterations in a mouse model of RTT. In the present study, we aimed at gaining insight into the mechanisms underpinning the efficacy of 5-HT7R pharmacological stimulation by investigating its epigenetic outcomes in the brain of RTT female mice bearing a truncating MeCP2 mutation. Treatment with LP-211 normalized the reduced histone H3 acetylation and HDAC3/NCoR levels, and increased HDAC1/Sin3a expression in RTT mouse cortex. Repeated 5-HT7R stimulation also appeared to strengthen the association between NCoR and MeCP2 in the same brain region. A different profile was found in RTT hippocampus, where LP-211 rescued H3 hyperacetylation and increased HDAC3 levels. Overall, the present data highlight a new scenario on the relationship between histone acetylation and serotoninergic pathways. 5-HT7R is confirmed as a pivotal therapeutic target for the recovery of neuronal function supporting the translational value of this promising pharmacological approach for RTT.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/jnen/nlaa158DOI Listing
February 2021

Chronic Treatment with Cannabidiolic Acid (CBDA) Reduces Thermal Pain Sensitivity in Male Mice and Rescues the Hyperalgesia in a Mouse Model of Rett Syndrome.

Neuroscience 2021 01 30;453:113-123. Epub 2020 Sep 30.

Center for Behavioral Sciences and Mental Health, Istituto Superiore di Sanità, Rome, Italy. Electronic address:

Rett syndrome (RTT) is a rare neurologic disorder, characterized by severe behavioural and physiological symptoms. RTT is caused by mutations in the MECP2 gene in about 95% of cases and to date no cure is available. Recent evidence suggests that non-euphoric phytocannabinoids (pCBs) extracted from Cannabis sativa may represent innovative therapeutic molecules for RTT, with the cannabinoid cannabidivarin having beneficial effects on behavioural and brain molecular alterations in RTT mouse models. The present study evaluated the potential therapeutic efficacy for RTT of cannabidiolic acid (CBDA; 0.2, 2, 20 mg/kg through intraperitoneal injections for 14 days), a pCB that has proved to be effective for the treatment of nausea and anxiety in rodents. This study demonstrates that systemic treatment with the low dose of CBDA has anti-nociceptive effects and reduces the thermal hyperalgesia in 8 month-old MeCP2-308 male mice, a validated RTT mouse model. CBDA did not affect other behavioural or molecular parameters. These results provide support to the antinociceptive effects of CBDA and stress the need for further studies aimed at clarifying the mechanisms underlying the abnormal pain perception in RTT.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.neuroscience.2020.09.041DOI Listing
January 2021

The Anti-Diabetic Drug Metformin Rescues Aberrant Mitochondrial Activity and Restrains Oxidative Stress in a Female Mouse Model of Rett Syndrome.

J Clin Med 2020 Jun 1;9(6). Epub 2020 Jun 1.

Center for Behavioral Sciences and Mental Health, Istituto Superiore di Sanità, 00161 Rome, Italy.

Metformin is the first-line therapy for diabetes, even in children, and a promising attractive candidate for drug repurposing. Mitochondria are emerging as crucial targets of metformin action both in the periphery and in the brain. The present study evaluated whether treatment with metformin may rescue brain mitochondrial alterations and contrast the increased oxidative stress in a validated mouse model of Rett syndrome (RTT), a rare neurologic disorder of monogenic origin characterized by severe behavioral and physiological symptoms. No cure for RTT is available. In fully symptomatic RTT mice (12 months old MeCP2-308 heterozygous female mice), systemic treatment with metformin (100 mg/kg ip for 10 days) normalized the reduced mitochondrial ATP production and ATP levels in the whole-brain, reduced brain oxidative damage, and rescued the increased production of reactive oxidizing species in blood. A 10-day long treatment with metformin also boosted pathways related to mitochondrial biogenesis and antioxidant defense in the brain of metformin-treated RTT mice. This treatment regimen did not improve general health status and motor dysfunction in RTT mice at an advanced stage of the disease. Present results provide evidence that systemic treatment with metformin may represent a novel, repurposable therapeutic strategy for RTT.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.3390/jcm9061669DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7355965PMC
June 2020

Personality and lateralization in common marmosets (Callithrix jacchus).

Behav Processes 2019 Oct 18;167:103899. Epub 2019 Jul 18.

Center for Behavioural Sciences and Mental Health, Istituto Superiore di Sanità, Roma, Italy. Electronic address:

Specialization of the left and right hemispheres to control behavioural responses may represent one of the mechanisms underlying individual differences in personality structure, as well as the preferential use of one hand. The present study investigated the relationship between personality and hand preference in common marmosets (Callithrix jacchus), a little New World monkey that presents highly consistent and stable individual hand preferences for simple reaching. To address this issue, data on 56 different behaviours from the species' behavioural repertoire were measured in 10 different laboratory tests and during observations under social conditions on 16 adult common marmosets. Stable behavioural variables were aggregated a priori into 13 personality traits. Exploratory Factor Analysis (EFA) on personality traits was carried out to verify the presence of major personality factors, and their relationship with direction and strength of individual hand preferences was assessed by multiple regression, taking into account sex and age of the subjects. The largest number of species-specific behaviours so far investigated in this species was taken into account and robust temporal stability between two testing periods was verified. We confirm that common marmosets are characterized by specific and stable personality profiles. A single personality factor, accounting for about 38% of the total variance, was found by EFA, that describes the interest towards unusual and new experiences and resembles the human Openness domain. The strength of the hand preference was found to be predicted by this personality factor, that we named Inquisitiveness. Present results highlight common marmoset as a useful primate model for the study of the relationship between personality and lateralization.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.beproc.2019.103899DOI Listing
October 2019

Methyl-CpG binding protein 2 functional alterations provide vulnerability to develop behavioral and molecular features of post-traumatic stress disorder in male mice.

Neuropharmacology 2019 12 6;160:107664. Epub 2019 Jun 6.

Center for Behavioral Sciences and Mental Health, Istituto Superiore di Sanità, Rome, Italy. Electronic address:

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental disorder characterized by symptoms of persistent anxiety arising after exposure to traumatic events. Stress susceptibility due to a complex interplay between genetic and environmental factors plays a major role in the disease etiology, although biological underpinnings have not been clarified. We hypothesized that aberrant functionality of the methyl-CpG binding protein 2 (MECP2), a master regulator of experience-dependent epigenetic programming, confers susceptibility to develop PTSD-like symptomatology in the aftermath of traumatic events. Transgenic male mice expressing a truncated form of MeCP2 protein (MeCP2-308) were exposed at adulthood to a trauma in the form of high-intensity footshocks. The presence and duration of PTSD-like symptoms were assessed and compared to those of trauma-exposed wild type littermates and MeCP2-308 mice subjected to a mild stressor. The effects of fluoxetine, a prime pharmacological PTSD treatment, on PTSD-like symptomatology were also explored. Trauma-exposed MeCP2-308 mice showed long-lasting hyperresponsiveness to both correct and incorrect predictors of the trauma and persistent increased avoidance of trauma-related cues. Traumatized MeCP2-308 mice also displayed abnormal post-traumatic plasma levels of the stress hormone corticosterone and altered peripheral gene expression mirroring that of PTSD patients. Fluoxetine improved PTSD-like symptoms in trauma-exposed MeCP2-308 mice. These findings provide evidence that MeCP2 dysfunction results in increased susceptibility to develop PTSD-like symptoms after trauma exposure, and identify trauma-exposed MeCP2-308 mice as a new tool to investigate the underpinnings of PTSD vulnerability.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.neuropharm.2019.06.003DOI Listing
December 2019

Rett syndrome before regression: A time window of overlooked opportunities for diagnosis and intervention.

Neurosci Biobehav Rev 2019 12 18;107:115-135. Epub 2019 May 18.

Center for Behavioral Sciences and Mental Health, Istituto Superiore di Sanità, Viale Regina Elena, 299, 00161 Rome, Italy. Electronic address:

Rett syndrome (RTT) is a rare neurological disorder primarily affecting females, causing severe cognitive, social, motor and physiological impairments for which no cure currently exists. RTT clinical diagnosis is based on the peculiar progression of the disease, since patients show an apparently normal initial development with a subsequent sudden regression at around 2 years of age. Accumulating evidences are rising doubts regarding the absence of early impairments, hence questioning the concept of regression. We reviewed the published literature addressing the pre-symptomatic stage of the disease in both patients and animal models with a particular focus on behavioral, physiological and brain abnormalities. The emerging picture delineates subtle, but reliable impairments that precede the onset of overt symptoms whose bases are likely set up already during embryogenesis. Some of the outlined alterations appear transient, suggesting compensatory mechanisms to occur in the course of development. There is urgent need for more systematic developmental analyses able to detect early pathological markers to be used as diagnostic tools and precocious targets of time-specific interventions.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2019.05.013DOI Listing
December 2019

Rescue of prepulse inhibition deficit and brain mitochondrial dysfunction by pharmacological stimulation of the central serotonin receptor 7 in a mouse model of CDKL5 Deficiency Disorder.

Neuropharmacology 2019 01 13;144:104-114. Epub 2018 Oct 13.

Center for Behavioral Sciences and Mental Health, Istituto Superiore di Sanità, 00161 Rome, Italy. Electronic address:

Mutations in the X-linked cyclin-dependent kinase-like 5 (CDKL5) gene cause CDKL5 Deficiency Disorder (CDD), a rare neurodevelopmental syndrome characterized by severe behavioural and physiological symptoms. No cure is available for CDD. CDKL5 is a kinase that is abundantly expressed in the brain and plays a critical role in neurodevelopmental processes, such as neuronal morphogenesis and plasticity. This study provides the first characterization of the neurobehavioural phenotype of 1 year old Cdkl5-null mice and demonstrates that stimulation of the serotonin receptor 7 (5-HTR) with the agonist molecule LP-211 (0.25 mg/kg once/day for 7 days) partially rescues the abnormal phenotype and brain molecular alterations in Cdkl5-null male mice. In particular, LP-211 treatment completely normalizes the prepulse inhibition defects observed in Cdkl5-null mice and, at a molecular level, restores the abnormal cortical phosphorylation of rpS6, a downstream target of mTOR and S6 kinase, which plays a direct role in regulating protein synthesis. Moreover, we demonstrate for the first time that mitochondria show prominent functional abnormalities in Cdkl5-null mouse brains that can be restored by pharmacological stimulation of brain 5-HTR.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.neuropharm.2018.10.018DOI Listing
January 2019

Chronic treatment with the phytocannabinoid Cannabidivarin (CBDV) rescues behavioural alterations and brain atrophy in a mouse model of Rett syndrome.

Neuropharmacology 2018 09 27;140:121-129. Epub 2018 Jul 27.

Center for Behavioral Sciences and Mental Health, Istituto Superiore di Sanità, Rome, Italy. Electronic address:

Rett syndrome (RTT) is a rare neurodevelopmental disorder, characterized by severe behavioural and physiological symptoms. RTT is caused by mutations in the MECP2 gene in about 95% of cases and to date no cure is available. The endocannabinoid system modulates several physiological processes and behavioural responses that are impaired in RTT and its deregulation has been associated with neuropsychiatric disorders which have symptoms in common with RTT. The present study evaluated the potential therapeutic efficacy for RTT of cannabidivarin (CBDV), a non-psychotropic phytocannabinoid from Cannabis sativa that presents antagonistic properties on the G protein-coupled receptor 55 (GPR55), the most recently identified cannabinoid receptor. Present results demonstrate that systemic treatment with CBDV (2, 20, 100 mg/Kg ip for 14 days) rescues behavioural and brain alterations in MeCP2-308 male mice, a validated RTT model. The CBDV treatment restored the compromised general health status, the sociability and the brain weight in RTT mice. A partial restoration of motor coordination was also observed. Moreover, increased levels of GPR55 were found in RTT mouse hippocampus, suggesting this G protein-coupled receptor as new potential target for the treatment of this disorder. Present findings highlight for the first time for RTT the translational relevance of CBDV, an innovative therapeutic agent that is under active investigation in the clinical setting.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.neuropharm.2018.07.029DOI Listing
September 2018

Persistent Unresolved Inflammation in the -308 Female Mutated Mouse Model of Rett Syndrome.

Mediators Inflamm 2017 16;2017:9467819. Epub 2017 May 16.

Child Neuropsychiatry Unit, University Hospital Azienda Ospedaliera Universitaria Senese (AOUS), Viale M. Bracci 16, 53100 Siena, Italy.

Rett syndrome (RTT) is a rare neurodevelopmental disorder usually caused by mutations in the X-linked gene (). Several mutant mouse lines have been developed recapitulating part of the clinical features. In particular, -308 female heterozygous mice, bearing a truncating mutation, are a validated model of the disease. While recent data suggest a role for inflammation in RTT, little information on the inflammatory status in murine models of the disease is available. Here, we investigated the inflammatory status by proteomic 2-DE/MALDI-ToF/ToF analyses in symptomatic -308 female mice. Ten differentially expressed proteins were evidenced in the -308 mutated plasma proteome. In particular, 5 positive acute-phase response (APR) proteins increased (i.e., kininogen-1, alpha-fetoprotein, mannose-binding protein C, alpha-1-antitrypsin, and alpha-2-macroglobulin), and 3 negative APR reactants were decreased (i.e., serotransferrin, albumin, and apolipoprotein A1). CD5 antigen-like and vitamin D-binding protein, two proteins strictly related to inflammation, were also changed. These results indicate for the first time a persistent unresolved inflammation of unknown origin in the -308 mouse model.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1155/2017/9467819DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5448068PMC
March 2018

Stimulation of the brain serotonin receptor 7 rescues mitochondrial dysfunction in female mice from two models of Rett syndrome.

Neuropharmacology 2017 Jul 15;121:79-88. Epub 2017 Apr 15.

Center for Behavioral Sciences and Mental Health, Istituto Superiore di Sanità, Rome, Italy. Electronic address:

Rett syndrome (RTT) is a rare neurodevelopmental disorder, characterized by severe behavioral and physiological symptoms. Mutations in the methyl CpG binding protein 2 gene (MECP2) cause more than 95% of classic cases, and currently there is no cure for this devastating disorder. Recently we have demonstrated that neurobehavioral and brain molecular alterations can be rescued in a RTT mouse model, by pharmacological stimulation of the brain serotonin receptor 7 (5-HT7R). This member of the serotonin receptor family, crucially involved in the regulation of brain structural plasticity and cognitive processes, can be stimulated by systemic repeated treatment with LP-211, a brain-penetrant selective agonist. The present study extends previous findings by demonstrating that LP-211 treatment (0.25 mg/kg, once per day for 7 days) rescues mitochondrial respiratory chain impairment, oxidative phosphorylation deficiency and the reduced energy status in the brain of heterozygous female mice from two highly validated mouse models of RTT (MeCP2-308 and MeCP2-Bird mice). Moreover, LP-211 treatment completely restored the radical species overproduction by brain mitochondria in the MeCP2-308 model and partially recovered the oxidative imbalance in the more severely affected MeCP2-Bird model. These results provide the first evidence that RTT brain mitochondrial dysfunction can be rescued targeting the brain 5-HT7R and add compelling preclinical evidence of the potential therapeutic value of LP-211 as a pharmacological approach for this devastating neurodevelopmental disorder.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.neuropharm.2017.04.024DOI Listing
July 2017

Genes and sex hormones interaction in neurodevelopmental disorders.

Neurosci Biobehav Rev 2016 Aug 4;67:9-24. Epub 2016 Mar 4.

Dept. Cell Biology and Neuroscience, Istituto Superiore di Sanità, Roma, Italy. Electronic address:

The prevalence, age of onset and symptomatology of many neurodevelopmental disorders strongly differ between genders. This review examines sex biases in human neurodevelopmental disorders and in validated animal models. A focus is made on disorders of well-established genetic origin, such as Rett syndrome, CDKL5-associated disorders, Fragile X and Down syndrome. Autism is also addressed, given its paradigmatic role as a sex-biased neurodevelopmental disorder. Reviewed literature confirms that a complex interaction between genetic factors and sex hormones may underlie the differential susceptibility of genders and may impact the severity of symptoms in most of the analyzed neurodevelopmental disorders. Even though further studies addressing the advantages and disadvantages conferred by biological sex in this class of disorders are needed to disentangle the underlying mechanisms, present findings suggest that modulation of sex steroid-related pathways may represent an innovative approach for these diseases. Much effort is now expected to unravel the potential therapeutic efficacy of drugs targeting sex hormones-related signaling pathways in neurodevelopmental disorders of well-established genetic origin.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2016.02.019DOI Listing
August 2016

Deficient Purposeful Use of Forepaws in Female Mice Modelling Rett Syndrome.

Neural Plast 2015 22;2015:326184. Epub 2015 Jun 22.

Behavioural Neuroscience Section, Department of Cell Biology and Neurosciences, Istituto Superiore di Sanità, Viale Regina Elena 299, 00161 Rome, Italy.

Rett syndrome (RTT) is a rare neurodevelopmental disorder, characterized by severe behavioural and physiological symptoms. Mutations in the methyl CpG binding protein 2 gene (MECP2) cause more than 95% of classic cases. Motor abnormalities represent a significant part of the spectrum of RTT symptoms. In the present study we investigated motor coordination and fine motor skill domains in MeCP2-308 female mice, a validated RTT model. This was complemented by the in vivo magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) analysis of metabolic profile in behaviourally relevant brain areas. MeCP2-308 heterozygous female mice (Het, 10-12 months of age) were impaired in tasks validated for the assessment of purposeful and coordinated forepaw use (Morag test and Capellini handling task). A fine-grain analysis of spontaneous behaviour in the home-cage also revealed an abnormal handling pattern when interacting with the nesting material, reduced motivation to explore the environment, and increased time devoted to feeding in Het mice. The brain MRS evaluation highlighted decreased levels of bioenergetic metabolites in the striatal area in Het mice compared to controls. Present results confirm behavioural and brain alterations previously reported in MeCP2-308 males and identify novel endpoints on which the efficacy of innovative therapeutic strategies for RTT may be tested.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1155/2015/326184DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4491574PMC
April 2016

Long-lasting beneficial effects of central serotonin receptor 7 stimulation in female mice modeling Rett syndrome.

Front Behav Neurosci 2015 14;9:86. Epub 2015 Apr 14.

Department of Cell Biology and Neuroscience, Istituto Superiore di Sanità Rome, Italy.

Rett syndrome (RTT) is a rare neurodevelopmental disorder, characterized by severe behavioral and physiological symptoms. Mutations in the methyl CpG binding protein 2 gene (MECP2) cause more than 95% of classic cases, and currently there is no cure for this devastating disorder. Recently we have demonstrated that specific behavioral and brain molecular alterations can be rescued in MeCP2-308 male mice, a RTT mouse model, by pharmacological stimulation of the brain serotonin receptor 7 (5-HT7R). This member of the serotonin receptor family-crucially involved in the regulation of brain structural plasticity and cognitive processes-can be stimulated by systemic repeated treatment with LP-211, a brain-penetrant selective 5-HT7R agonist. The present study extends previous findings by demonstrating that the LP-211 treatment (0.25 mg/kg, once per day for 7 days) rescues RTT-related phenotypic alterations, motor coordination (Dowel test), spatial reference memory (Barnes maze test) and synaptic plasticity (hippocampal long-term-potentiation) in MeCP2-308 heterozygous female mice, the genetic and hormonal milieu that resembles that of RTT patients. LP-211 also restores the activation of the ribosomal protein (rp) S6, the downstream target of mTOR and S6 kinase, in the hippocampus of RTT female mice. Notably, the beneficial effects on neurobehavioral and molecular parameters of a seven-day long treatment with LP-211 were evident up to 2 months after the last injection, thus suggesting long-lasting effects on RTT-related impairments. Taken together with our previous study, these results provide compelling preclinical evidence of the potential therapeutic value for RTT of a pharmacological approach targeting the brain 5-HT7R.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fnbeh.2015.00086DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4396444PMC
April 2015

Modulation of Rho GTPases rescues brain mitochondrial dysfunction, cognitive deficits and aberrant synaptic plasticity in female mice modeling Rett syndrome.

Eur Neuropsychopharmacol 2015 Jun 30;25(6):889-901. Epub 2015 Mar 30.

Department of Cell Biology and Neuroscience, Istituto Superiore di Sanità, Roma, Italy.

Rho GTPases are molecules critically involved in neuronal plasticity and cognition. We have previously reported that modulation of brain Rho GTPases by the bacterial toxin CNF1 rescues the neurobehavioral phenotype in MeCP2-308 male mice, a model of Rett syndrome (RTT). RTT is a rare X-linked neurodevelopmental disorder and a genetic cause of intellectual disability, for which no effective therapy is available. Mitochondrial dysfunction has been proposed to be involved in the mechanism of the disease pathogenesis. Here we demonstrate that modulation of Rho GTPases by CNF1 rescues the reduced mitochondrial ATP production via oxidative phosphorylation in the brain of MeCP2-308 heterozygous female mice, the condition which more closely recapitulates that of RTT patients. In RTT mouse brain, CNF1 also restores the alterations in the activity of the mitochondrial respiratory chain (MRC) complexes and of ATP synthase, the molecular machinery responsible for the majority of cell energy production. Such effects were achieved through the upregulation of the protein content of those MRC complexes subunits, which were defective in RTT mouse brain. Restored mitochondrial functionality was accompanied by the rescue of deficits in cognitive function (spatial reference memory in the Barnes maze), synaptic plasticity (long-term potentiation) and Tyr1472 phosphorylation of GluN2B, which was abnormally enhanced in the hippocampus of RTT mice. Present findings bring into light previously unknown functional mitochondrial alterations in the brain of female mice modeling RTT and provide the first evidence that RTT brain mitochondrial dysfunction can be rescued by modulation of Rho GTPases.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.euroneuro.2015.03.012DOI Listing
June 2015

Mitochondrial free radical overproduction due to respiratory chain impairment in the brain of a mouse model of Rett syndrome: protective effect of CNF1.

Free Radic Biol Med 2015 Jun 20;83:167-77. Epub 2015 Feb 20.

Institute of Biomembranes and Bioenergetics, National Council of Research, Bari, Italy. Electronic address:

Rett syndrome (RTT) is a pervasive neurodevelopmental disorder mainly caused by mutations in the X-linked MECP2 gene associated with severe intellectual disability, movement disorders, and autistic-like behaviors. Its pathogenesis remains mostly not understood and no effective therapy is available. High circulating levels of oxidative stress markers in patients and the occurrence of oxidative brain damage in MeCP2-deficient mouse models suggest the involvement of oxidative stress in RTT pathogenesis. However, the molecular mechanism and the origin of the oxidative stress have not been elucidated. Here we demonstrate that a redox imbalance arises from aberrant mitochondrial functionality in the brain of MeCP2-308 heterozygous female mice, a condition that more closely recapitulates that of RTT patients. The marked increase in the rate of hydrogen peroxide generation in the brain of RTT mice seems mainly produced by the dysfunctional complex II of the mitochondrial respiratory chain. In addition, both membrane potential generation and mitochondrial ATP synthesis are decreased in RTT mouse brains when succinate, the complex II respiratory substrate, is used as an energy source. Respiratory chain impairment is brain area specific, owing to a decrease in either cAMP-dependent phosphorylation or protein levels of specific complex subunits. Further, we investigated whether the treatment of RTT mice with the bacterial protein CNF1, previously reported to ameliorate the neurobehavioral phenotype and brain bioenergetic markers in an RTT mouse model, exerts specific effects on brain mitochondrial function and consequently on hydrogen peroxide production. In RTT brains treated with CNF1, we observed the reactivation of respiratory chain complexes, the rescue of mitochondrial functionality, and the prevention of brain hydrogen peroxide overproduction. These results provide definitive evidence of mitochondrial reactive oxygen species overproduction in RTT mouse brain and highlight CNF1 efficacy in counteracting RTT-related mitochondrial defects.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.freeradbiomed.2015.02.014DOI Listing
June 2015

The role of group II metabotropic glutamate receptors in cognition and anxiety: comparative studies in GRM2(-/-), GRM3(-/-) and GRM2/3(-/-) knockout mice.

Neuropharmacology 2015 Feb 23;89:19-32. Epub 2014 Aug 23.

Department of Experimental Psychology, University of Oxford, Oxford OX1 3UD, UK. Electronic address:

Group II metabotropic glutamate receptors (mGlu2 and mGlu3, encoded by GRM2 and GRM3) have been implicated in both cognitive and emotional processes, although their precise role remains to be established. Studies with knockout (KO) mice provide an important approach for investigating the role of specific receptor genes in behaviour. In the present series of experiments we extended our prior characterisation of GRM2/3(-/-) double KO mice and, in complementary experiments, investigated the behavioural phenotype of single GRM2(-/-) and GRM3(-/-) mice. We found no consistent effect on anxiety in either the double or single KO mice. The lack of an anxiety phenotype in any of the lines contrasts with the clear anxiolytic effects of mGlu2/3 ligands. Motor co-ordination was impaired in GRM2/3(-/-) mice, but spared in single GRM2(-/-) and GRM3(-/-) mice. Spatial working memory (rewarded alternation) testing on the elevated T-maze revealed a deficit in GRM2(-/-) mice throughout testing, whereas GRM3(-/-) mice exhibited a biphasic effect (initially impaired, but performing better than controls by the end of training). A biphasic effect on activity levels was seen for the GRM2(-/-) mice. Overall, the phenotype in both GRM2(-/-) and GRM3(-/-) mice was less pronounced - if present at all - compared to GRM2/3(-/-) mice, across the range of task domains. This is consistent with possible redundancy of function and/or compensation in the single KO lines. Results are discussed with reference to a possible role for group II metabotropic glutamate receptors at the interface between arousal and behavioural performance, according to an inverted U-shaped function.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.neuropharm.2014.08.010DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4259517PMC
February 2015

Aberrant Rho GTPases signaling and cognitive dysfunction: in vivo evidence for a compelling molecular relationship.

Neurosci Biobehav Rev 2014 Oct 24;46 Pt 2:285-301. Epub 2014 Jun 24.

Sect. Behavioural Neuroscience, Department of Cell Biology & Neuroscience, Istituto Superiore di Sanità, Roma, Italy.

Rho GTPases are key intracellular signaling molecules that coordinate dynamic changes in the actin cytoskeleton, thereby stimulating a variety of processes, including morphogenesis, migration, neuronal development, cell division and adhesion. Deviations from normal Rho GTPases activation state have been proposed to disrupt cognition and synaptic plasticity. This review focuses on the functional consequences of genetic ablation of upstream and downstream Rho GTPases molecules on cognitive function and neuronal morphology and connectivity. Available information on this issue is described and compared to that gained from mice carrying mutations in the most studied Rho GTPases and from pharmacological in vivo studies in which brain Rho GTPases signaling was modulated. Results from reviewed literature provide definitive evidence of a compelling link between Rho GTPases signaling and cognitive function, thus supporting the notion that Rho GTPases and their downstream effectors may represent important therapeutic targets for disorders associated with cognitive dysfunction.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2014.06.007DOI Listing
October 2014

Pharmacological stimulation of the brain serotonin receptor 7 as a novel therapeutic approach for Rett syndrome.

Neuropsychopharmacology 2014 Oct 9;39(11):2506-18. Epub 2014 May 9.

Department of Cell Biology and Neuroscience, Istituto Superiore di Sanità, Rome, Italy.

Rett syndrome (RTT) is a rare neurodevelopmental disorder, characterized by severe behavioral and physiological symptoms. Mutations in the methyl CpG-binding protein 2 gene (MECP2) cause >95% of classic cases, and currently there is no cure for this devastating disorder. The serotonin receptor 7 (5-HT7R) is linked to neuro-physiological regulation of circadian rhythm, mood, cognition, and synaptic plasticity. We presently report that 5-HT7R density is consistently reduced in cortical and hippocampal brain areas of symptomatic MeCP2-308 male mice, a RTT model. Systemic repeated treatment with LP-211 (0.25 mg/kg once/day for 7 days), a brain-penetrant selective 5-HT7R agonist, was able to rescue RTT-related defective performance: anxiety-related profiles in a Light/Dark test, motor abilities in a Dowel test, the exploratory behavior in the Marble Burying test, as well as memory in the Novelty Preference task. In the brain of RTT mice, LP-211 also reversed the abnormal activation of PAK and cofilin (key regulators of actin cytoskeleton dynamics) and of the ribosomal protein (rp) S6, whose reduced activation in MECP2 mutant neurons by mTOR is responsible for the altered protein translational control. Present findings indicate that pharmacological targeting of 5-HT7R improves specific behavioral and molecular manifestations of RTT, thus representing a first step toward the validation of an innovative systemic treatment. Beyond RTT, the latter might be extended to other disorders associated with intellectual disability.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/npp.2014.105DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4207333PMC
October 2014

Oxidative brain damage in Mecp2-mutant murine models of Rett syndrome.

Neurobiol Dis 2014 Aug 24;68:66-77. Epub 2014 Apr 24.

Institute of Genetics and Biophysics "A. Buzzati-Traverso", Naples, Italy; IRCCS Neuromed, Pozzilli, Italy. Electronic address:

Rett syndrome (RTT) is a rare neurodevelopmental disorder affecting almost exclusively females, caused in the overwhelming majority of the cases by loss-of-function mutations in the gene encoding methyl-CpG binding protein 2 (MECP2). High circulating levels of oxidative stress (OS) markers in patients suggest the involvement of OS in the RTT pathogenesis. To investigate the occurrence of oxidative brain damage in Mecp2 mutant mouse models, several OS markers were evaluated in whole brains of Mecp2-null (pre-symptomatic, symptomatic, and rescued) and Mecp2-308 mutated (pre-symptomatic and symptomatic) mice, and compared to those of wild type littermates. Selected OS markers included non-protein-bound iron, isoprostanes (F2-isoprostanes, F4-neuroprostanes, F2-dihomo-isoprostanes) and 4-hydroxy-2-nonenal protein adducts. Our findings indicate that oxidative brain damage 1) occurs in both Mecp2-null (both -/y and stop/y) and Mecp2-308 (both 308/y males and 308/+ females) mouse models of RTT; 2) precedes the onset of symptoms in both Mecp2-null and Mecp2-308 models; and 3) is rescued by Mecp2 brain specific gene reactivation. Our data provide direct evidence of the link between Mecp2 deficiency, oxidative stress and RTT pathology, as demonstrated by the rescue of the brain oxidative homeostasis following brain-specifically Mecp2-reactivated mice. The present study indicates that oxidative brain damage is a previously unrecognized hallmark feature of murine RTT, and suggests that Mecp2 is involved in the protection of the brain from oxidative stress.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.nbd.2014.04.006DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4076513PMC
August 2014

Mitochondrial dysfunction as a central actor in intellectual disability-related diseases: an overview of Down syndrome, autism, Fragile X and Rett syndrome.

Neurosci Biobehav Rev 2014 Oct 15;46 Pt 2:202-17. Epub 2014 Feb 15.

Institute of Biomembranes and Bioenergetics, National Council of Research, Bari, Italy. Electronic address:

Clinical manifestations typical of mitochondrial diseases are often present in various genetic syndromes associated with intellectual disability, a condition leading to deficit in cognitive functions and adaptive behaviors. Until now, the causative mechanism leading to intellectual disability is unknown and the progression of the condition is poorly understood. We first report latest advances on genetic and environmental regulation of mitochondrial function and its role in brain development. Starting from the structure, function and regulation of the oxidative phosphorylation apparatus, we review how mitochondrial biogenesis and dynamics play a central role in neurogenesis and neuroplasticity. We then discuss how dysfunctional mitochondria and alterations in reactive oxygen species homeostasis are potentially involved in the pathogenesis of various neurodevelopmental syndromes with a special focus on Down, Rett, Fragile X syndromes and autism spectrum disorders. Finally, we review and suggest novel therapeutic approaches aimed at improving intellectual disability by activating mitochondrial function and reducing oxidative stress to amiliorate the quality of life in the subjects affected.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2014.01.012DOI Listing
October 2014

Novel highly potent serotonin 5-HT7 receptor ligands: structural modifications to improve pharmacokinetic properties.

Bioorg Med Chem Lett 2013 Nov 17;23(22):6083-6. Epub 2013 Sep 17.

Università degli Studi di Bari 'Aldo Moro', Dipartimento di Farmacia-Scienze del Farmaco, via Orabona, 4, 70125 Bari, Italy. Electronic address:

Here we report the synthesis, pharmacological and pharmacokinetic evaluation of a pilot set of compounds structurally related to the potent and selective 5-HT7 ligand LP-211. Among the studied compounds, N-pyridin-3-ylmethyl-3-[4-[2-(4-methoxyphenyl)phenyl]piperazin-1-yl]ethoxy]propanamide (4b) showed high affinity for 5-HT7 receptors (K(i)=23.8 nM), selectivity over 5-HT1A receptors (>50-fold), in vitro metabolic stability (82%) and weak interaction with P-glycoprotein (BA/AB=3.3). Compound 4b was injected ip in mice to preliminarily evaluate its distribution between blood and brain.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.bmcl.2013.09.025DOI Listing
November 2013

Preservation of mitochondrial functional integrity in mitochondria isolated from small cryopreserved mouse brain areas.

Anal Biochem 2014 Jan 7;444:25-31. Epub 2013 Sep 7.

Institute of Biomembranes and Bioenergetics, National Council of Research, 70126 Bari, Italy. Electronic address:

Studies of mitochondrial bioenergetics in brain pathophysiology are often precluded by the need to isolate mitochondria immediately after tissue dissection from a large number of brain biopsies for comparative studies. Here we present a procedure of cryopreservation of small brain areas from which mitochondrial enriched fractions (crude mitochondria) with high oxidative phosphorylation efficiency can be isolated. Small mouse brain areas were frozen and stored in a solution containing glycerol as cryoprotectant. Crude mitochondria were isolated by differential centrifugation from both cryopreserved and freshly explanted brain samples and were compared with respect to their ability to generate membrane potential and produce ATP. Intactness of outer and inner mitochondrial membranes was verified by polarographic ascorbate and cytochrome c tests and spectrophotometric assay of citrate synthase activity. Preservation of structural integrity and oxidative phosphorylation efficiency was successfully obtained in crude mitochondria isolated from different areas of cryopreserved mouse brain samples. Long-term cryopreservation of small brain areas from which intact and phosphorylating mitochondria can be isolated for the study of mitochondrial bioenergetics will significantly expand the study of mitochondrial defects in neurological pathologies, allowing large comparative studies and favoring interlaboratory and interdisciplinary analyses.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ab.2013.08.030DOI Listing
January 2014

Rett syndrome treatment in mouse models: searching for effective targets and strategies.

Neuropharmacology 2013 May 23;68:106-15. Epub 2012 Aug 23.

Section of Neurotoxicology and Neuroendocrinology, Dept. Cell Biology and Neurosciences, Istituto Superiore di Sanità, Viale Regina Elena, 299, I-00161 Roma, Italy.

Rett syndrome (RTT) is a pervasive developmental disorder, primarily affecting girls with a prevalence of 1 in every 10,000 births; it represents the second most common cause of intellectual disability in females. Mutations in the gene encoding methyl-CpG-binding protein 2 (MECP2) have been identified as clear etiological factors in more than 90% of classical RTT cases. Whereas the mechanisms leading to the severe, progressive and specific neurological dysfunctions when this gene is mutated still remain to be elucidated, a series of different mouse models have been generated, bearing different Mecp2 mutation. Neurobehavioural analysis in these mouse lines have been carried out and phenotyping analysis can be now utilised to preclinically evaluate the effects of potential RTT treatments. This review summarizes the different results achieved in this research field taking into account different key targets identified to ameliorate RTT phenotype in mouse models, including those not directly downstream of MeCP2 and those limited to the early phases of postnatal development. This article is part of the Special Issue entitled 'Neurodevelopmental Disorders'.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.neuropharm.2012.08.010DOI Listing
May 2013

Neonatal exposure to low dose corticosterone persistently modulates hippocampal mineralocorticoid receptor expression and improves locomotor/exploratory behaviour in a mouse model of Rett syndrome.

Neuropharmacology 2013 May 16;68:174-83. Epub 2012 Jun 16.

Sect. Behavioural Neuroscience, Dept. Cell Biology & Neuroscience, Istituto Superiore di Sanità, Viale Regina Elena 299, 00161 Rome, Italy.

Rett syndrome (RTT) is a pervasive neurodevelopmental disorder, primarily affecting girls. RTT causes a wide variety of debilitating symptoms and no cure currently exists. Mouse models bearing mutations in the Mecp2 gene recapitulate most physiological and behavioural RTT-related abnormalities. Stimulating neonatal environments (e.g. brief maternal separations or maternal low-dose corticosterone supplementation) reduce stress and fear responses at adulthood. The present study investigated whether impacting early in development the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, by exposing Mecp2-308 mutant pups to a low dose of corticosterone (50 µg/ml, during the 1st week of life) may contrast RTT-related abnormalities in neuroendocrine regulation and behavioural adaptation at adulthood. In line with previous reports, when fully symptomatic, MeCP2-308 mice showed a reduction in the regular nocturnal hyperactivity in the home-cage and increased anxiety-like behaviours and plasma corticosterone (CORT) levels in response to restraint stress. An abnormal elevation in mRNA levels of mineralocorticoid receptors (MR) and BDNF gene was also evident in the hippocampus of fully symptomatic mutant mice. Neonatal CORT modulated MR gene expression and behavioural reactivity towards a novel object, also restoring wt-like levels of locomotor/exploratory behaviour in mutant mice. Enhanced sensitivity to the neonatal treatment (in terms of increase in GR and MR mRNA levels), was also evident in the hippocampus of MeCP2-308 mice compared to wt littermates. Present results corroborate the hypothesis that targeting the glucocorticoid system may prove valid in contrasting at least some of the RTT-related symptoms and provide evidence that pharmacological interventions during critical early time windows can persistently improve the behavioural phenotype of RTT mice. Current data also support the emerging role played by Mecp2 in mediating the epigenetic programming induced by early life events and indicate that, in the absence of functional MeCP2, programming of the central nervous system in response to early environmental stimuli is abnormally regulated. This article is part of the Special Issue entitled 'Neurodevelopmental Disorders'.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.neuropharm.2012.05.048DOI Listing
May 2013

Modulation of RhoGTPases improves the behavioral phenotype and reverses astrocytic deficits in a mouse model of Rett syndrome.

Neuropsychopharmacology 2012 Apr 7;37(5):1152-63. Epub 2011 Dec 7.

Department Cell Biology and Neuroscience, Istituto Superiore di Sanità, Roma, Italy.

RhoGTPases are crucial molecules in neuronal plasticity and cognition, as confirmed by their role in non-syndromic mental retardation. Activation of brain RhoGTPases by the bacterial cytotoxic necrotizing factor 1 (CNF1) reshapes the actin cytoskeleton and enhances neurotransmission and synaptic plasticity in mouse brains. We evaluated the effects of a single CNF1 intracerebroventricular inoculation in a mouse model of Rett syndrome (RTT), a rare neurodevelopmental disorder and a genetic cause of mental retardation, for which no effective therapy is available. Fully symptomatic MeCP2-308 male mice were evaluated in a battery of tests specifically tailored to detect RTT-related impairments. At the end of behavioral testing, brain sections were immunohistochemically characterized. Magnetic resonance imaging and spectroscopy (MRS) were also applied to assess morphological and metabolic brain changes. The CNF1 administration markedly improved the behavioral phenotype of MeCP2-308 mice. CNF1 also dramatically reversed the evident signs of atrophy in astrocytes of mutant mice and restored wt-like levels of this cell population. A partial rescue of the overexpression of IL-6 cytokine was also observed in RTT brains. CNF1-induced brain metabolic changes detected by MRS analysis involved markers of glial integrity and bioenergetics, and point to improved mitochondria functionality in CNF1-treated mice. These results clearly indicate that modulation of brain RhoGTPases by CNF1 may constitute a totally innovative therapeutic approach for RTT and, possibly, for other disorders associated with mental retardation.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/npp.2011.301DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3306877PMC
April 2012

Fractionation of spatial memory in GRM2/3 (mGlu2/mGlu3) double knockout mice reveals a role for group II metabotropic glutamate receptors at the interface between arousal and cognition.

Neuropsychopharmacology 2011 Dec 10;36(13):2616-28. Epub 2011 Aug 10.

Department of Psychiatry, University of Oxford, Warneford Hospital, Oxford, UK.

Group II metabotropic glutamate receptors (mGluR2 and mGluR3, encoded by GRM2 and GRM3) are implicated in hippocampal function and cognition, and in the pathophysiology and treatment of schizophrenia and other psychiatric disorders. However, pharmacological and behavioral studies with group II mGluR agonists and antagonists have produced complex results. Here, we studied hippocampus-dependent memory in GRM2/3 double knockout (GRM2/3(-/-)) mice in an iterative sequence of experiments. We found that they were impaired on appetitively motivated spatial reference and working memory tasks, and on a spatial novelty preference task that relies on animals' exploratory drive, but were unimpaired on aversively motivated spatial memory paradigms. GRM2/3(-/-) mice also performed normally on an appetitively motivated, non-spatial, visual discrimination task. These results likely reflect an interaction between GRM2/3 genotype and the arousal-inducing properties of the experimental paradigm. The deficit seen on appetitive and exploratory spatial memory tasks may be absent in aversive tasks because the latter induce higher levels of arousal, which rescue spatial learning. Consistent with an altered arousal-cognition relationship in GRM2/3(-/-) mice, injection stress worsened appetitively motivated, spatial working memory in wild-types, but enhanced performance in GRM2/3(-/-) mice. GRM2/3(-/-) mice were also hypoactive in response to amphetamine. This fractionation of hippocampus-dependent memory depending on the appetitive-aversive context is to our knowledge unique, and suggests a role for group II mGluRs at the interface of arousal and cognition. These arousal-dependent effects may explain apparently conflicting data from previous studies, and have translational relevance for the involvement of these receptors in schizophrenia and other disorders.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/npp.2011.145DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3230485PMC
December 2011

Cholinergic hypofunction in MeCP2-308 mice: beneficial neurobehavioural effects of neonatal choline supplementation.

Behav Brain Res 2011 Aug 30;221(2):623-9. Epub 2011 Mar 30.

Section of Neurotoxicology and Neuroendocrinology, Department of Cell Biology and Neuroscience, Istituto Superiore di Sanità, Viale Regina Elena, 299, 00161 Rome, Italy.

We studied the long-term effects of a postnatal choline supplementation (from birth till weaning) in the truncated MeCP2-308 mouse model of Rett syndrome. Adult male mutant hemizygous (hz) mice showed a reduction of locomotor activity compared to wild type (wt) littermates. Early choline treatment restored wt-like locomotor activity levels in hz mice. Reduced striatal choline acetyl transferase (ChAT) activity and decreased levels of cortical mRNA NGF were found in hz mice. Choline supplementation increased striatal ChAT activity and also enhanced NGF and BDNF expression in cortical and hippocampal regions. As a whole, postnatal choline supplementation attenuates some of the behavioural and neurobiological abnormalities of the Mecp2-308 phenotype.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.bbr.2011.03.051DOI Listing
August 2011
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