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Keywords:

  • chromaffin;
  • exocytosis;
  • neuroendocrine;
  • neurosecretion;
  • sympathetic

Abstract

Rett syndrome (RTT) is a progressive developmental disorder resulting from loss-of-function mutations in the gene encoding methyl-CpG-binding protein 2 (MeCP2), a transcription regulatory protein. The RTT phenotype is complex and includes severe cardiorespiratory abnormalities, dysautonomia and behavioral symptoms of elevated stress. These findings have been attributed to an apparent hyperactivity of the sympathetic nervous system due to defects in brainstem development; however, the possibility that the peripheral sympathoadrenal axis itself is abnormal has not been explored. The present study demonstrates that the adrenal medulla and sympathetic ganglia of Mecp2 null mice exhibit markedly reduced catecholamine content compared with wild-type controls. Despite this, null animals exhibit significantly higher plasma epinephrine levels, suggesting enhanced secretory granule function in adrenal chromaffin cells. Indeed, we find that Mecp2 null chromaffin cells exhibit a cell autonomous hypersecretory phenotype characterized by significant increases in the speed and size of individual secretory granule fusion events in response to electrical stimulation. These findings appear to indicate accelerated formation and enhanced dilation of the secretory granule fusion pore, resulting in elevated catecholamine release. Our data therefore highlight abnormal catecholamine function in the sympathoadrenal axis as a potential source of autonomic dysfunction in RTT. These findings may help to explain the apparent ‘overactivity’ of the sympathetic nervous system reported in patients with RTT.