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Keywords:

  • Rett syndrome;
  • MECP2 gene;
  • CDKL5 gene;
  • FOXG1 gene;
  • Encephalopathy;
  • Epileptic encephalopathy;
  • Infantile spasms

Summary

Rett syndrome is an X-linked neurodevelopmental disorder that manifests in early childhood with developmental stagnation, and loss of spoken language and hand use, with the development of distinctive hand stereotypies, severe cognitive impairment, and autistic features. About 60% of patients have epilepsy. Seizure onset before the age of 3 years is unlikely, and onset after age 20 is rare. Diagnosis of Rett syndrome is based on key clinical elements that identify “typical” Rett syndrome but also “variant” or “atypical” forms. Diagnostic criteria have been modified only slightly over time, even after discovering that MECP2 gene alterations are present in >90% of patients with typical Rett syndrome but only in 50–70% of atypical cases. Over the last several years, intragenic or genomic alterations of the CDKL5 and FOXG1 genes have been associated with severe cognitive impairment, early onset epilepsy and, often, dyskinetic movement disorders, which have variably been defined as Rett variants. It is now clearly emerging that epilepsy has distinctive characteristics in typical Rett syndrome and in the different syndromes caused by CDKL5 and FOXG1 gene alterations. The progressive parting of CDKL5- and FOXG1-gene–related encephalopathies from the core Rett syndrome is reflected by the effort to produce clearer diagnostic criteria for typical and atypical Rett syndrome. Efforts to characterize the molecular pathology underlying these developmental encephalopathies are pointing to abnormalities of telencephalic development, neuronal morphogenesis, maturation and maintenance, and dendritic arborization.