Pathogenesis of lethal cardiac arrhythmias in Mecp2 mutant mice: implication for therapy in Rett syndrome

Sci Transl Med. 2011 Dec 14;3(113):113ra125. doi: 10.1126/scitranslmed.3002982.


Rett syndrome is a neurodevelopmental disorder typically caused by mutations in methyl-CpG-binding protein 2 (MECP2) in which 26% of deaths are sudden and of unknown cause. To explore the hypothesis that these deaths may be due to cardiac dysfunction, we characterized the electrocardiograms in 379 people with Rett syndrome and found that 18.5% show prolongation of the corrected QT interval (QTc), an indication of a repolarization abnormality that can predispose to the development of an unstable fatal cardiac rhythm. Male mice lacking MeCP2 function, Mecp2(Null/Y), also have prolonged QTc and show increased susceptibility to induced ventricular tachycardia. Female heterozygous null mice, Mecp2(Null/+), show an age-dependent prolongation of QTc associated with ventricular tachycardia and cardiac-related death. Genetic deletion of MeCP2 function in only the nervous system was sufficient to cause long QTc and ventricular tachycardia, implicating neuronally mediated changes to cardiac electrical conduction as a potential cause of ventricular tachycardia in Rett syndrome. The standard therapy for prolonged QTc in Rett syndrome, β-adrenergic receptor blockers, did not prevent ventricular tachycardia in Mecp2(Null/Y) mice. To determine whether an alternative therapy would be more appropriate, we characterized cardiomyocytes from Mecp2(Null/Y) mice and found increased persistent sodium current, which was normalized when cells were treated with the sodium channel-blocking anti-seizure drug phenytoin. Treatment with phenytoin reduced both QTc and sustained ventricular tachycardia in Mecp2(Null/Y) mice. These results demonstrate that cardiac abnormalities in Rett syndrome are secondary to abnormal nervous system control, which leads to increased persistent sodium current. Our findings suggest that treatment in people with Rett syndrome would be more effective if it targeted the increased persistent sodium current to prevent lethal cardiac arrhythmias.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arrhythmias, Cardiac / etiology*
  • Arrhythmias, Cardiac / genetics*
  • Arrhythmias, Cardiac / physiopathology*
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Echocardiography
  • Electric Stimulation
  • Female
  • Heart Defects, Congenital
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Methyl-CpG-Binding Protein 2 / genetics*
  • Methyl-CpG-Binding Protein 2 / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Mice, Mutant Strains
  • Mutation
  • Patch-Clamp Techniques
  • Rett Syndrome / complications*
  • Rett Syndrome / genetics*
  • Rett Syndrome / physiopathology
  • Rett Syndrome / therapy*
  • Sodium / metabolism


  • Methyl-CpG-Binding Protein 2
  • Sodium