Deficiency of GABAergic synaptic inhibition in the Kölliker-Fuse area underlies respiratory dysrhythmia in a mouse model of Rett syndrome

Ana Paula Abdala*, Marie A. Toward, Mathias Dutschmann, John M. Bissonnette, Julian F R Paton

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

40 Citations (Scopus)
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Central apnoeas and respiratory irregularity are a common feature in Rett syndrome (RTT), a neurodevelopmental disorder most often caused by mutations in the methyl-CpG-binding protein 2 gene (MECP2). We used a MECP2 deficient mouse model of RTT as a strategy to obtain insights into the neurobiology of the disease and into mechanisms essential for respiratory rhythmicity during normal breathing. Previously, we showed that, systemic administration of a GABA reuptake blocker in MECP2 deficient mice markedly reduced the occurrence of central apnoeas. Further, we found that, during central apnoeas, post-inspiratory drive (adductor motor) to the upper airways was enhanced in amplitude and duration in Mecp2 heterozygous female mice. Since the pontine Kölliker-Fuse area (KF) drives post-inspiration, suppresses inspiration, and can reset the respiratory oscillator phase, we hypothesized that synaptic inhibition in this area is essential for respiratory rhythm regularity. In this study, we found that: (i) Mecp2 heterozygous mice showed deficiency of GABA perisomatic bouton-like puncta and processes in the KF nucleus; (ii) blockade of GABA reuptake in the KF of RTT mice reduced breathing irregularity; (iii) conversely, blockade of GABAA receptors in the KF of healthy rats mimicked the RTT respiratory phenotype of recurrent central apnoeas and prolonged post-inspiratory activity. Our results show that reductions in synaptic inhibition within the KF induce rhythm irregularity whereas boosting GABA transmission reduces respiratory arrhythmia in a murine model of RTT. Our data suggest that manipulation of synaptic inhibition in KF may be a clinically important strategy for alleviating the life threatening respiratory disorders in RTT.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)223-237
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Physiology
Issue number1
Early online date14 Dec 2015
Publication statusPublished - 31 Dec 2015


  • Rett syndrome
  • Breathing
  • GABA


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