Fragile X syndrome (FXS) is characterized by a pattern of morphological, functional, and molecular characteristics with, in at least some cases, apparent relationships among phenotypic features at different levels. Gross morphology differences in the sizes of some human brain regions are accompanied by fine structural alterations in the shapes and in the numbers of dendritic spines in both humans and the knockout mouse model. The excess number of spines, their immature appearance, and the impaired withdrawal of inappropriately oriented dendrites in FXS or the mouse model suggest impairment of neuronal maturation, including dendritic and spine pruning. It is not clear how these differences arise, although regionally or globally impaired translation of the mRNAs that interact with the Fmr1 protein product, FMRP, in the vicinity of the synapse, including genes involved in synapse development and plasticity and dendritic retraction, is certainly plausible. FMRP binds mRNA and may be involved in both transport and translation of the mRNAs it binds. The mRNAs it binds belong to multiple functional classes, apparently indicating that FMRP may impact multiple cellular processes. In one example, the glucocorticoid receptor, whose mRNA binds FMRP, regulates the stress-sensitive glucocorticosteroids. Both human FXS and the mouse model exhibit a protracted elevation in glucocorticosteroids after stress. Possible relationships of other genes to morphological and functional characteristics of FXS are also discussed.
Copyright 2004 Wiley-Liss, Inc.