Dp71-Dystrophin Deficiency Alters Prefrontal Cortex Excitation-Inhibition Balance and Executive Functions

Mol Neurobiol. 2019 Apr;56(4):2670-2684. doi: 10.1007/s12035-018-1259-6. Epub 2018 Jul 27.


In the Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) syndrome, mutations affecting expression of Dp71, the main dystrophin isoform of the multipromoter dmd gene in brain, have been associated with intellectual disability and neuropsychiatric disturbances. Patients' profile suggests alterations in prefrontal cortex-dependent executive processes, but the specific dysfunctions due to Dp71 deficiency are unclear. Dp71 is involved in brain ion homeostasis, and its deficiency is expected to increase neuronal excitability, which might compromise the integrity of neuronal networks undertaking high-order cognitive functions. Here, we used electrophysiological (patch clamp) and behavioral techniques in a transgenic mouse that display a selective loss of Dp71 and no muscular dystrophy, to identify changes in prefrontal cortex excitatory/inhibitory (E/I) balance and putative executive dysfunctions. We found prefrontal cortex E/I balance is shifted toward enhanced excitation in Dp71-null mice. This is associated with a selective alteration of AMPA receptor-mediated glutamatergic transmission and reduced synaptic plasticity, while inhibitory transmission is unaffected. Moreover, Dp71-null mice display deficits in cognitive processes that depend on prefrontal cortex integrity, such as cognitive flexibility and sensitivity of spatial working memory to proactive interference. Our data suggest that impaired cortical E/I balance and executive dysfunctions contribute to the intellectual and behavioral disturbances associated with Dp71 deficiency in DMD, in line with current neurobehavioral models considering these functions as key pathophysiological factors in various neurodevelopmental disorders. These new insights in DMD neurobiology also suggest new directions for therapeutic developments targeting excitatory neurotransmission, as well as for guidance of academic environment in severely affected DMD children.

Keywords: Cognitive flexibility; Cortical network plasticity; Glia; Intellectual disability; Mouse models; Working memory.

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Animals
  • Dystrophin / deficiency*
  • Dystrophin / metabolism
  • Executive Function / physiology*
  • Glutamates / metabolism
  • Memory, Short-Term
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Miniature Postsynaptic Potentials / physiology
  • Neural Inhibition / physiology*
  • Neuronal Plasticity
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiopathology*
  • Pyramidal Cells / metabolism
  • Synapses / metabolism
  • Synaptic Transmission


  • Dystrophin
  • Glutamates
  • apo-dystrophin 1