MECP2 is progressively expressed in post-migratory neurons and is involved in neuronal maturation rather than cell fate decisions

Mol Cell Neurosci. 2004 Nov;27(3):306-21. doi: 10.1016/j.mcn.2004.07.006.


Rett syndrome is a neurodevelopmental disorder and one of the causes of mental retardation and autistic behavior in girls, as well as in a small group of boys. It was recently discovered that mutation of the methyl-CpG-binding protein 2 (MECP2) gene encoding a transcriptional repressor on the X chromosome causes Rett syndrome. Although it is evident that phenotypes of MECP2 mutant mice that resemble those of Rett syndrome are attributable to lack of the MECP2 gene in the central nervous system (CNS), there is little understanding of the neuropathological abnormalities in the CNS of MECP2-null mice. Here, we investigated the developmental regulation and specific cellular expression of MECP2 during neural development both in vitro and in vivo. MECP2 is expressed in mature neurons, but not in astroglia or oligodendroglia, and is increasingly expressed during development of the mouse neocortex. In addition, in vitro culture studies suggest that MECP2 is expressed in more differentiated neurons rather than in less differentiated neuroblasts. Under in vitro conditions using neural precursor cultures, we find that MECP2 mutant neural precursors differentiate into morphologically mature neurons and glia, and no significant differences in differentiation are detected between cells from wild-type and MECP2 mutant mice, suggesting that MECP2 may play a different role in mice than it does in Xenopus embryos. In agreement with this hypothesis, neocortical projection layers in MECP2 -/y mice are thinner than those in wild-type mice, and pyramidal neurons in layer II/III in MECP2 -/y mice are smaller and less complex than those in wild-type mice. Taken together, our results indicate that MECP2 is involved in the maturation and maintenance of neurons, including dendritic arborization, rather than in cell fate decisions.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Movement / genetics
  • Cell Movement / physiology*
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Chromosomal Proteins, Non-Histone / biosynthesis*
  • Chromosomal Proteins, Non-Histone / genetics
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / biosynthesis*
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / genetics
  • Dendrites / physiology
  • Female
  • Male
  • Methyl-CpG-Binding Protein 2
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Neurons / cytology*
  • Neurons / metabolism*
  • Repressor Proteins / biosynthesis*
  • Repressor Proteins / genetics


  • Chromosomal Proteins, Non-Histone
  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • Mecp2 protein, mouse
  • Methyl-CpG-Binding Protein 2
  • Repressor Proteins