A consistent feature of neurons in patients with mental retardation is abnormal dendritic structure and/or alterations in dendritic spine morphology. Deficits in the regulation of the dendritic cytoskeleton affect both the structure and function of dendrites and synapses and are believed to underlie mental retardation in some instances. In support of this, there is good evidence that alterations in signaling pathways involving the Rho family of small GTPases, key regulators of the actin and microtubule cytoskeletons, contribute to both syndromic and nonsyndromic mental retardation disorders. Because the Rho GTPases have been shown to play increasingly well-defined roles in determining dendrite and dendritic spine development and morphology, Rho signaling has been suggested to be important for normal cognition. The purpose of this review is to summarize recent data on the Rho GTPases pertaining to dendrite and dendritic spine morphogenesis, as well as to highlight their involvement in mental retardation resulting from a variety of genetic mutations within regulators and effectors of these molecules.
Copyright 2005 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.