MECP2 Disorders

In: GeneReviews® [Internet]. Seattle (WA): University of Washington, Seattle; 1993.
[updated ].


Clinical characteristics: The spectrum of MECP2-related phenotypes in females ranges from classic Rett syndrome to variant Rett syndrome with a broader clinical phenotype (either milder or more severe than classic Rett syndrome) to mild learning disabilities; the spectrum in males ranges from severe neonatal encephalopathy to pyramidal signs, parkinsonism, and macroorchidism (PPM-X) syndrome to severe syndromic/nonsyndromic intellectual disability.

  1. Females: Classic Rett syndrome, a progressive neurodevelopmental disorder primarily affecting girls, is characterized by apparently normal psychomotor development during the first six to 18 months of life, followed by a short period of developmental stagnation, then rapid regression in language and motor skills, followed by long-term stability. During the phase of rapid regression, repetitive, stereotypic hand movements replace purposeful hand use. Additional findings include fits of screaming and inconsolable crying, autistic features, panic-like attacks, bruxism, episodic apnea and/or hyperpnea, gait ataxia and apraxia, tremors, seizures, and acquired microcephaly.

  2. Males: Severe neonatal-onset encephalopathy, the most common phenotype in affected males, is characterized by a relentless clinical course that follows a metabolic-degenerative type of pattern, abnormal tone, involuntary movements, severe seizures, and breathing abnormalities. Death often occurs before age two years.

Diagnosis/testing: The diagnosis of a MECP2 disorder is established by molecular genetic testing in a female proband with suggestive findings and a heterozygous MECP2 pathogenic variant, and in a male proband with suggestive findings and a hemizygous MECP2 pathogenic variant.

Management: Treatment of manifestations: Treatment is mainly symptomatic and focuses on optimizing the individual's abilities using a multidisciplinary approach that should also include psychosocial support for family members. Risperidone may help in treating agitation; melatonin can ameliorate sleep disturbances. Treatment of seizures, constipation, gastroesophageal reflux, scoliosis, prolonged QTc, and spasticity per standard care.

Surveillance: Periodic evaluation by the multidisciplinary team; regular assessment of QTc for evidence of prolongation; regular assessment for scoliosis.

Agents/circumstances to avoid: Drugs known to prolong the QT interval.

Genetic counseling: MECP2 disorders are inherited in an X-linked manner. More than 99% are simplex cases (i.e., a single occurrence in a family), resulting from a de novo pathogenic variant or possibly from inheritance of the pathogenic variant from a parent who has germline mosaicism. Rarely, a MECP2 variant may be inherited from a heterozygous mother in whom favorable skewing of X-chromosome inactivation results in minimal to no clinical findings. When the mother is a known heterozygote, the risk to her offspring of inheriting the MECP2 variant is 50%. When the pathogenic MECP2 variant has been identified in the family, heterozygote testing for at-risk female relatives, prenatal testing for pregnancies at increased risk, and preimplantation genetic testing are possible. Because of the possibility of parental germline mosaicism, it is appropriate to offer prenatal diagnosis to couples who have had a child with a MECP2 disorder regardless of whether the MECP2 pathogenic variant has been detected in a parent.

Publication types

  • Review