Dendritic pathology in mental retardation: from molecular genetics to neurobiology


  • M. Dierssen,

    Corresponding author
    1. Neurobehavioral Analysis Laboratory, Genes and Disease Program, Center for Genomic Regulation, (CRG-UPF) PRBB, 08003 Barcelona, Spain,
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  • G. J. A. Ramakers

    1. Neurons and Networks, Netherlands Institute for Brain Research, Graduate School Neurosciences Amsterdam, Meibergdreef 33, 1105 AZ Amsterdam ZO, the Netherlands
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*M. Dierssen, Genes and Disease Program, Center for Genomic Regulation, Passeig Marítim 37-49, 08003 Barcelona, Spain. E-mail: mara.dierssen@crg.es


Mental retardation (MR) is a developmental brain disorder characterized by impaired cognitive performance and adaptive skills that affects 1–2% of the population. During the last decade, a large number of genes have been cloned that cause MR upon mutation in humans. The causal role of these genes provides an excellent starting point to investigate the cellular, neurobiological and behavioral alterations and mechanisms responsible for the cognitive impairment in mentally retarded persons. However, studies on Down syndrome (DS) reveal that overexpression of a cluster of genes and various forms of MR that are caused by single-gene mutations, such as fragile X (FraX), Rett, Coffin-Lowry, Rubinstein–Taybi syndrome and non-syndromic forms of MR, causes similar phenotypes. In spite of the many differences in the manifestation of these forms of MR, evidence converges on the proposal that MR is primarily due to deficiencies in neuronal network connectivity in the major cognitive centers in the brain, which secondarily results in impaired information processing. Although MR has been largely regarded as a brain disorder that cannot be cured, our increased understanding of the abnormalities and mechanisms underlying MR may provide an avenue for the development of therapies for MR. In this review, we discuss the neurobiology underlying MR, with a focus on FraX and DS