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Keywords:

  • Anxiety-like behavior;
  • autism spectrum disorders;
  • behavioral development;
  • methyl-CpG-binding protein 2 gene;
  • neurodevelopmental disorders;
  • presymptomatic phase;
  • stereotypies;
  • transgenic mice;
  • ultrasound vocalizations

In a mouse model of Rett syndrome (RTT) which expresses a truncated form of methyl-CpG-binding protein 2 (Mecp2) gene (Mecp2-308), we performed a neurobehavioral evaluation across the life span, starting from soon after birth till adulthood. A focus was made on those developmental phases and behavioral domains which have not been previously investigated. The results evidenced subtle anomalies on postnatal days (pnds) 3 to 9 (so-called presymptomatic phase) in spontaneous movements by hemizygous neonatal male mice. Specifically as early as pnd 3, mutant pups exhibited more intense curling and more side responses and on pnd 9 more pivoting and head rising behaviors than wild type (wt) littermates. A significant decrease in ultrasonic vocalization rate, also emerged in Mecp2-308 pups. The same mice were also characterized by increased anxiety-like behaviors (open-field and zero-maze tests) during the early symptomatic phase, in the absence of changes in cognitive passive-avoidance task and rotarod performances. Upon the clearly symptomatic stage, 5-month-old Mecp2-308 mice were also associated with reduced spontaneous home-cage motor activity, motor coordination impairments (rotarod and dowel tests), and a more marked profile of d-amphetamine (10 mg/kg) released stereotyped behavioral syndrome than wt mice. Present results provide an interesting timeline of the progression of symptoms in the Mecp2-308 model and emphasize the need for increased attention to the presymptomatic phase which may be especially informative in mouse models of human neurodevelopmental disorders. This analysis has provided evidence of precocious behavioral markers of RTT and has identified an early developmental window of opportunities on which potential therapies could be investigated.