Rett Syndrome (RTT), an autism-related disorder caused by mutation of the X-linked Methyl CpG-binding Protein 2 (MECP2) gene, is characterized by severe cognitive and intellectual deficits. While cognitive deficits are well-documented in humans and rodent models, impairments of sensory, motor and metabolic functions also occur but remain poorly understood. To better understand non-cognitive deficits in RTT, we studied female rats heterozygous for Mecp2 mutation (Mecp2-/x); unlike commonly used male Mecp2-/y rodent models, this more closely approximates human RTT where males rarely survive. Mecp2-/x rats showed rapid, progressive decline of motor coordination through six months of age as assessed by rotarod performance, accompanied by deficits in gait and posture. Mecp2-/x rats were hyper-responsive to noxious pressure and cold, but showed visceral hyposensitivity when tested by colorectal distension. Mecp2-/x rats ate less, drank more, and had more body fat resulting in increased weight gain. Our findings reveal an array of progressive non-cognitive deficits in this rat model that are likely to contribute to the compromised quality of life that characterizes RTT.
Keywords: autism spectrum disorder; behavior; feeding.