Fragile X mental retardation protein (FMRP) is absent or highly reduced in Fragile X Syndrome, a genetic disorder causing cognitive impairment and autistic behaviors. Previous proof-of-principle studies have demonstrated that restoring FMRP in the brain using viral vectors can improve pathological abnormalities in mouse models of fragile X. However, unlike small molecule drugs where the dose can readily be adjusted during treatment, viral vector-based biological therapeutic drugs present challenges in terms of achieving optimal dosing and expression levels. The objective of this study was to investigate the consequences of expressing varying levels of FMRP selectively in neurons of Fmr1 knockout and wild-type (WT) mice. A wide range of neuronal FMRP transgene levels was achieved in individual mice after intra-cerebroventricular administration of adeno-associated viral vectors coding for FMRP. In all treated knockout mice, prominent FMRP transgene expression was observed in forebrain structures, whereas lower levels were present in more caudal regions of the brain. Reduced levels of the synaptic protein PSD-95, elevated levels of the transcriptional modulator MeCP2, and abnormal motor activity, anxiety, and acoustic startle responses in Fmr1 knockout mice were fully or partially rescued after expression of FMRP at about 35-115% of WT expression, depending on the brain region examined. In the WT mouse, moderate FMRP over-expression of up to about twofold had little or no effect on PSD-95 and MeCP2 levels or on behavioral endophenotypes. In contrast, excessive over-expression in the Fmr1 knockout mouse forebrain (approximately 2.5-6-fold over WT) induced pathological motor hyperactivity and suppressed the startle response relative to WT mice. These results delineate a range of FMRP expression levels in the central nervous system that confer phenotypic improvement in fragile X mice. Collectively, these findings are pertinent to the development of long-term curative gene therapy strategies for treating Fragile X Syndrome and other neurodevelopmental disorders.
Keywords: Fmr1; MeCP2; Rett syndrome; adeno-associated virus; autism; fragile X syndrome.