Sex difference in mecp2 expression during a critical period of rat brain development

Epigenetics. 2007 Sep;2(3):173-8. doi: 10.4161/epi.2.3.4841. Epub 2007 Aug 6.


Pervasive developmental disorder is a classification covering five related conditions including the neurodevelopmental disorder Rett syndrome (RTT) and autism. Of these five conditions, only RTT has a known genetic cause with mutations in Methyl-CpG-binding protein 2 (MeCP2), a global repressor of gene expression, responsible for the majority of RTT cases. However, recent evidence indicates that reduced MeCP2 expression or activity is also found in autism and other disorders with overlapping phenotypes. Considering the sex difference in autism diagnosis, with males diagnosed four times more often than females, we questioned if a sex difference existed in the expression of MeCP2, in particular within the amygdala, a region that develops atypically in autism. We found that male rats express significantly less mecp2 mRNA and protein than females within the amygdala, as well as the ventromedial hypothalamus (VMH), but not within the preoptic area (POA) on post-natal day 1 (PN1). At PN10 these differences were gone; however, on this day males had more mecp2 mRNA than females within the POA. The transient sex difference of mecp2 expression during the steroid-sensitive period of brain development suggests that mecp2 may participate in normal sexual differentiation of the rat brain. Considering the strong link between MeCP2 and neurodevelopmental disorders, the lower levels of mecp2 expression in males may also underlie a biological risk for mecp2-related neural disorders.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Amygdala / growth & development*
  • Amygdala / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Autistic Disorder / genetics
  • Autistic Disorder / metabolism*
  • Basic Helix-Loop-Helix Transcription Factors / biosynthesis*
  • Basic Helix-Loop-Helix Transcription Factors / genetics
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hypothalamus / growth & development*
  • Hypothalamus / metabolism
  • Male
  • Methyl-CpG-Binding Protein 2 / biosynthesis*
  • Methyl-CpG-Binding Protein 2 / genetics
  • Preoptic Area / growth & development
  • Preoptic Area / metabolism
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Repressor Proteins / biosynthesis*
  • Repressor Proteins / genetics
  • Rett Syndrome / genetics
  • Rett Syndrome / metabolism*
  • Sex Characteristics*


  • Basic Helix-Loop-Helix Transcription Factors
  • Mecp2 protein, rat
  • Methyl-CpG-Binding Protein 2
  • Repressor Proteins