In sporadic cases of Rett syndrome, it is thought that the mutated MECP2 is usually derived from the male copy of the X chromosome.
Most individuals with Rett syndrome are female. Because the disease-causing gene is located on the X chromosome, a female born with a MECP2 mutation on her X chromosome has another X chromosome with an ostensibly normal copy of the same gene, while a male with the mutation on his X chromosome has no other X chromosome, only a Y chromosome; thus, he has no normal gene. Without a normal gene to provide normal proteins in addition to the abnormal proteins caused by a MECP2 mutation, the XY karyotype male fetus is unable to staunch the development of the disease, hence the failure of many male fetuses with a MECP2 mutation to survive to term. Females with a MECP2 mutation, however, have a non-mutant chromosome that provides them enough normal protein to survive at least to birth. Research shows that males with Rett's syndrome almost all have Klinefelter's syndrome as well (in which the male has an XXY karyotype). Thus, a non-mutant MECP2 gene is necessary for a Rett's-affected embryo to survive in most cases, and the embryo, male or female, must have another X chromosome.
There have, however, been several cases of 46,XY Karyotype males with a MECP2 mutation (associated with classical Rett syndrome in females) carried to term, who were affected by neonatal encephalopathy and died before 2 years of age. The incidence of Rett syndrome in males is unknown, partly due to low survival of male fetuses with the Rett syndrome associated MECP2 mutations, and partly to differences between symptoms caused by MECP2 mutations and those caused by Rett's.
The severity of Rett syndrome in females can vary depending on the type and position of the mutation of MECP2 and the pattern of X-chromosome inactivation. It is generally assumed that 50% of a female's cells use the maternal X chromosome while the other 50% uses the paternal X chromosome (see X-inactivation). However, if most cells in the brain activate the X chromosome with the functional MECP2 allele, the individual will have very mild Rett syndrome; likewise, if most neurons activate the X chromosome with the mutated MECP2 allele, the individual will have very severe Rett syndrome just as males with MECP2 mutations do (as they only have one X chromosome).
Symptoms of Rett syndrome that are similar to autism:
Symptoms of Rett syndrome that are also present in cerebral palsy (regression of the type seen in Rett syndrome would be unusual in cerebral palsy; this confusion should rarely be made):
Symptoms may stabilize for many decades, particularly for interaction and cognitive function such as making choices. Anti-social behavior may change to highly social behavior. Motor functions may slow as rigidity and dystonia appear. Seizures may be problematic, with a wide range of severity. Scoliosis occurs in most and requires corrective surgery in about 10%. Those who remain ambulatory tend to have less progression of scoliosis.
Treatment of Rett syndrome includes:
The Challenge of Developing Therapies for MECP2 Disorders
The recent studies demonstrating that neurological deficits resulting from loss of MeCP2 can be reversed upon restoration of gene function are quite exciting because they show that neurons that have suffered the consequences of loss of MeCP2 function are poised to regain functionality once MeCP2 is provided gradually and in the correct spatial distribution. This provides hope for restoring neuronal function in patients with RTT. However, the strategy in humans will require providing the critical factors that function downstream of MeCP2 because of the challenges in delivering the correct MeCP2 dosage only to neurons that lack it, given that the slightest perturbation in MeCP2 level is deleterious. Thus, therapeutic strategies necessitate the identification of the molecular mechanisms underlying individual RTT phenotypes and picking out the candidates that can be therapeutically targeted. The next phase of research needs to assess how complete the recovery is. Clearly, lethality, level of activity, and hippocampal plasticity are rescued, but are the animals free of any other RTT symptoms such as social behavior deficits, anxiety, and cognitive impairments? Since postnatal rescue results in viability, it will be important to evaluate if even the subtler phenotypes of RTT and MECP2 disorders are rescued when protein function is restored postnatally. This is particularly important given emerging data about early neonatal experiences and their long-term effects on behavior in adults.
Females can live up to 40 years or more. Lab studies on Rett syndrome may show abnormalities such as:
A high proportion of deaths are abrupt, but most have no identifiable cause; in some instances death is the result most likely of:
Rett Disorder and the Developing Brain. edited by Alison Kerr & Ingegerd Witt Engerstrom Oxford University Press ISBN 0-19-856815-0, 2005