Cell-Autonomous Alterations in Dendritic Arbor Morphology and Connectivity Induced by Overexpression of MeCP2 in Xenopus Central Neurons In Vivo
Methyl CpG binding protein-2 (MeCP2) is an essential epigenetic regulator in human brain development. Mutations in the MeCP2 gene have been linked to Rett syndrome, a severe X-linked progressive neurodevelopmental disorder, and one of the most common causes of mental retardation in females. MeCP2 duplication and triplication have also been found to affect brain development, indicating that both loss of function and gain in MeCP2 dosage lead to similar neurological phenotypes. Here, we used the Xenopus laevis visual system as an in vivo model to examine the consequence of increased MeCP2 expression during the morphological maturation of individual central neurons in an otherwise intact brain. Single-cell overexpression of wild-type human MeCP2 was combined with time-lapse confocal microscopy imaging to study dynamic mechanisms by which MeCP2 influences tectal neuron dendritic arborization. Analysis of neurons co-expressing DsRed2 demonstrates that MeCP2 overexpression specifically interfered with dendritic elaboration, decreasing the rates of branch addition and elimination over a 48 hour observation period. Moreover, dynamic analysis of neurons co-expressing wt-hMeCP2 and PSD95-GFP revealed that even though neurons expressing wt-hMeCP2 possessed significantly fewer dendrites and simpler morphologies than control neurons at the same developmental stage, postsynaptic site density in wt-hMeCP2-expressing neurons was similar to controls and increased at a rate higher than controls. Together, our in vivo studies support an early, cell-autonomous role for MeCP2 during the morphological differentiation of neurons and indicate that perturbations in MeCP2 gene dosage result in deficits in dendritic arborization that can be compensated, at least in part, by synaptic connectivity changes.