Huntingtin phosphorylation governs BDNF homeostasis and improves the phenotype of Mecp2 knockout mice

EMBO Mol Med. 2020 Feb 7;12(2):e10889. doi: 10.15252/emmm.201910889. Epub 2020 Jan 8.


Mutations in the X-linked MECP2 gene are responsible for Rett syndrome (RTT), a severe neurological disorder for which there is no treatment. Several studies have linked the loss of MeCP2 function to alterations of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) levels, but non-specific overexpression of BDNF only partially improves the phenotype of Mecp2-deficient mice. We and others have previously shown that huntingtin (HTT) scaffolds molecular motor complexes, transports BDNF-containing vesicles, and is under-expressed in Mecp2 knockout brains. Here, we demonstrate that promoting HTT phosphorylation at Ser421, either by a phospho-mimetic mutation or inhibition of the phosphatase calcineurin, restores endogenous BDNF axonal transport in vitro in the corticostriatal pathway, increases striatal BDNF availability and synaptic connectivity in vivo, and improves the phenotype and the survival of Mecp2 knockout mice-even though treatments were initiated only after the mice had already developed symptoms. Stimulation of endogenous cellular pathways may thus be a promising approach for the treatment of RTT patients.

Keywords: BDNF; Mecp2; Rett; axonal transport; huntingtin.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor* / genetics
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Female
  • Homeostasis
  • Huntingtin Protein / chemistry*
  • Male
  • Methyl-CpG-Binding Protein 2* / genetics
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Phenotype
  • Phosphorylation
  • Rett Syndrome / genetics*


  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor
  • Huntingtin Protein
  • Mecp2 protein, mouse
  • Methyl-CpG-Binding Protein 2