Clinical and Preclinical Evidence for M1 Muscarinic Acetylcholine Receptor Potentiation as a Therapeutic Approach for Rett Syndrome

Neurotherapeutics. 2022 Jul;19(4):1340-1352. doi: 10.1007/s13311-022-01254-3. Epub 2022 Jun 7.


Rett syndrome (RTT) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that is characterized by developmental regression, loss of communicative ability, stereotyped hand wringing, cognitive impairment, and central apneas, among many other symptoms. RTT is caused by loss-of-function mutations in a methyl-reader known as methyl-CpG-binding protein 2 (MeCP2), a protein that links epigenetic changes on DNA to larger chromatin structure. Historically, target identification for RTT has relied heavily on Mecp2 knockout mice; however, we recently adopted the alternative approach of performing transcriptional profiling in autopsy samples from RTT patients. Through this mechanism, we identified muscarinic acetylcholine receptors (mAChRs) as potential therapeutic targets. Here, we characterized a cohort of 40 temporal cortex samples from individuals with RTT and quantified significantly decreased levels of the M1, M2, M3, and M5 mAChRs subtypes relative to neurotypical controls. Of these four subtypes, M1 expression demonstrated a linear relationship with MeCP2 expression, such that M1 levels were only diminished in contexts where MeCP2 was also significantly decreased. Further, we show that M1 potentiation with the positive allosteric modulator (PAM) VU0453595 (VU595) rescued social preference, spatial memory, and associative memory deficits, as well as decreased apneas in Mecp2+/- mice. VU595's efficacy on apneas in Mecp2+/- mice was mediated by the facilitation of the transition from inspiration to expiration. Molecular analysis correlated rescue with normalized global gene expression patterns in the brainstem and hippocampus, as well as increased Gsk3β inhibition and NMDA receptor trafficking. Together, these data suggest that M1 PAMs could represent a new class of RTT therapeutics.

Keywords: Apneas; Brainstem; Cognition; Gsk3β; M1 mAChR; Rett syndrome.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apnea
  • Chromatin
  • Glycogen Synthase Kinase 3 beta / genetics
  • Glycogen Synthase Kinase 3 beta / metabolism
  • Methyl-CpG-Binding Protein 2 / genetics
  • Methyl-CpG-Binding Protein 2 / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Receptors, Muscarinic / genetics
  • Receptors, Muscarinic / metabolism
  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate
  • Rett Syndrome* / drug therapy
  • Rett Syndrome* / genetics
  • Rett Syndrome* / metabolism


  • Methyl-CpG-Binding Protein 2
  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate
  • Glycogen Synthase Kinase 3 beta
  • Receptors, Muscarinic
  • Chromatin