Comparative study of brain morphology in Mecp2 mutant mouse models of Rett syndrome



Rett syndrome (RTT) is caused by mutations in the X-linked gene MECP2. While patients with RTT show widespread changes in brain function, relatively few studies document changes in brain structure and none examine in detail whether mutations causing more severe clinical phenotypes are linked to more marked changes in brain structure. To study the influence of MeCP2-deficiency on the morphology of brain areas and axonal bundles, we carried out an extensive morphometric study of two Mecp2-mutant mouse models (Mecp2B and Mecp2J) of RTT. Compared to wildtype littermates, striking changes included reduced brain weight (≈13% and ≈9%) and the volumes of cortex (≈11% and ≈7%), hippocampus (both by ≈8%), and cerebellum (≈12% and 8%) in both mutant mice. At 3 weeks of age, most (24 of 47) morphological parameters were significantly altered in Mecp2B mice; fewer (18) were abnormal in Mecp2J mice. In Mecp2B mice, significantly lower values for cortical area were distributed along the rostrocaudal axis, and there was a reduced length of the olfactory bulb (≈10%) and periaqueductal gray matter (≈16%). In Mecp2J mice, while there was significant reduction in rostrocaudal length of cortex, this parameter was also abnormal in hippocampus (≈10%), periaqueductal gray matter (≈13%), fimbria (≈18%), and anterior commissure (≈10%). Our findings define patterns of Mecp2 mutation-induced changes in brain structure that are widespread and show that while some changes are present in both mutants, others are not. These observations provide the underpinning for studies to further define microarchitectural and physiological consequences of MECP2 deficiency. J. Comp. Neurol. 508:184–195, 2008. © 2008 Wiley-Liss, Inc.