Interpreting neonatal lethal phenotypes in mouse mutants: insights into gene function and human diseases

Physiol Rev. 2009 Jan;89(1):1-26. doi: 10.1152/physrev.00040.2007.


The mouse represents the model of choice to study the biological function of mammalian genes through mutation of its genome. However, the biggest challenge of mouse geneticists remains the phenotypic analysis of mouse mutants. A survey of mouse mutant databases reveals a surprisingly high number of gene mutations leading to neonatal death. These genetically modified mouse mutants have been instrumental in elucidating gene function and have become important models of congenital human diseases. The main complication when phenotyping mutant mice dying during the neonatal period is the large spectrum of physiological systems whose defects can challenge neonatal survival. Here, we present a comprehensive review of gene mutations leading to neonatal lethality and discuss the impact of these mutations on the major physiological processes critical to mouse newborn survival: parturition, breathing, suckling, and homeostasis. Selected examples of mouse mutants are highlighted to illustrate how the precise identification of the timing and cause of death associated with these physiological processes allows for a more profound understanding of the underlying cellular and molecular defects. This review provides a guide for the analysis of neonatal lethal phenotypes in mutant mice that will be helpful for dissecting out the function of specific genes during mouse development.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Disease Models, Animal*
  • Genes, Lethal*
  • Genetic Diseases, Inborn / genetics*
  • Genetic Diseases, Inborn / mortality
  • Genetic Diseases, Inborn / physiopathology
  • Homeostasis / physiology
  • Mice
  • Parturition / physiology
  • Phenotype*
  • Respiration
  • Sucking Behavior / physiology