Background: Among the well characterized X-linked conditions causing mental retardation, mutations in the methyl-CpG-binding protein 2 gene (MECP2) in Xq28 have been found in up to 85% of patients with Rett syndrome, a neurologic disorder which, in addition to other symptoms, severely affects higher cognitive functions in females. Mutations in the MECP2 gene are involved in a broad spectrum of phenotypes from classical Rett syndrome to mild intellectual difficulties in females and neonatal encephalopathy in males. Recently, mutations in the MECP2 gene were reported in males with non-specific mental retardation suggesting that defects in MECP2 could be responsible for up to 2% of X-linked mental retardation.
Methods: We screened by denaturing high-pressure liquid chromatography the entire coding region and flanking intronic sequences of the MECP2 gene in a cohort of 354 mentally retarded males found negative for an expansion across the FRAXA CGG repeat and in a family in which a boy and his sister were mentally retarded.
Results: We identified mainly silent polymorphisms within the MECP2 gene, together with four sequence alterations of unknown significance, i.e. three missense mutations (T197M, T228S, and P376S) and one substitution at position -19 in intron 3 (378-19delT). Further familial investigations allowed us to ruled out a pathogenic effect for the intronic variant, the T228S and the P376S missense mutations.
Conclusions: These results confirm that MECP2 mutations in males are far more rare than initially thought and call for a careful evaluation of the pathogenicity of the MECP2 missense mutations identified in mentally retarded males before genetic counseling is proposed to the relatives.