Research in the Neul Lab

Research Interests

Rett Syndrome is an X-linked neurodevelopmental disease that primarily affects girls and is caused in the majority of cased by mutations in Methyl-CpG-binding Protein 2 (MECP2). This disease is characterized by loss of hand skills, loss of spoken language, and development of repetitive hand movements. In addition to these features, affected people also have a variety of clinical features including movement problems such as dystonia and tremor, growth failure, and anxiety. Notably, autonomic abnormalities such as breathing irregularities, heart rhythm abnormalities, and vasomotor disturbances are extremely common in this disease and these abnormalities are thought to underlie the sudden unexpected death observed in a fraction of affected people. Most boys with mutations in MECP2 are severely affected with congenital encephalopathy and marked autonomic abnormalities. These autonomic abnormalities lead to death within the first years of life.

We are interested in using animal models and molecular techniques to understand the mechanisms that cause some of the specific clinical features found in Rett Syndrome. Specifically, we are interested in the neuroanatomic and molecular basis of autonomic abnormalities. We determined that a mouse model reproduces many of the autonomic abnormalities observed in people with Rett syndrome, including breathing problems and abnormal heart rhythm. Male mice that lack all MeCP2 function also have a markedly shortened lifespan and we believe that these autonomic abnormalities are the cause. To determine the neuroanatomic basis of the autonomic abnormalities and shortened lifespan, we utilize tissue conditional knock-out techniques to remove MeCP2 from particular anatomic regions and determine the specific phenotypic abnormalities that results. From this approach we discovered that MeCP2 plays a role within aminergic neurons (dopamine, norepinephrine, serotonin) to control the expression of the synthetic enzymes that control the production of these neurotransmitters and that disrupting MeCP2 within these neurons results in specific behavioral abnormalities. We subsequently have determined that removing MeCP2 from the medulla and spinal cord results in premature death and autonomic abnormalities. We are now using molecular and cellular techniques to determine which neural circuits underlie these abnormalities. We hope to use this information to develop therapeutic strategies to treat these phenotypes in the animal model and eventually translate this knowledge in to treatment approaches to affected people.

Selected Publications

Ward CS, Huang TW, Herrera JA, Samaco RC, Pitcher MR, Herron A, Skinner SA, Kaufmann WE, Glaze DG, Percy AK, Neul JL (2016) Loss of MeCP2 Causes Urological Dysfunction and Contributes to Death by Kidney Failure in Mouse Models of Rett Syndrome. PLoS One. 9;11(11):e0165550. PubMed PMID: 27828991

Herrera JA, Ward CS, Wehrens XH, Neul JL (2016) Methyl-CpG binding-protein 2 function in cholinergic neurons mediates cardiac arrhythmogenesis. Hum. Mol. Genet. 15;25(22):4983-95. PubMed PMID: 28159985

Jieqi Wang, Jan Eike Wegener, Teng-Wei Huang, Smitha Sripathy, Hector De Jesus-Cortes, Pin Xu, Stephanie Tran, Whitney Knobbe, Vid Leko, Jeremiah Britt, Ruth Starwalt, Latisha McDaniel, Chris S. Ward, Diana Parra, Benjamin Newcomb, Uyen Lao, Cynthia Nourigat, David A. Flowers, Sean Cullen, Nikolas L. Jorstad, Yue Yang, Lena Glaskova, Sebastian Vigneau, Julia Kozlitina, Michael J. Yetman, Joanna L. Jankowsky, Sybille D. Reichardt, Holger M. Reichardt, Jutta Gärtner, Marisa S. Bartolomei, Min Fang, Keith Loeb, C. Dirk Keene, Irwin Bernstein, Margaret Goodell, Daniel J. Brat, Peter Huppke, Jeffrey L. Neul, Antonio Bedalov & Andrew A. Pieper (2015) Wild-type microglia do not reverse pathology in mouse models of Rett syndrome. Nature. Published online. [Brief Communication]

Herrera JA, Ward CS, Pitcher MR, Percy AK, Skinner S, Kaufmann WE, Glaze DG, Wehrens XH, Neul JL (2015) Treatment of cardiac arrhythmias in Rett Syndrome with sodium channel blocking antiepileptic drugs. Dis. Model. Mech. pii: dmm.020131. [epub ahead of print]. PubMed PMID: 25713300

Pitcher MR, Herrera JA, Buffington SA, Kochukov MY, Merritt JK, Fisher AR, Schanen NC, Costa-Mattioli M, Neul JL (2015) Rett syndrome like phenotypes in the R255X Mecp2 mutant mouse are rescued by MECP2 transgene. Hum. Mol. Genet. 1;24(9):2662-72. PubMed PMID: 25634563

Ramirez JM1, Ward CS, Neul JL (2013) [REVIEW] Breathing challenges in Rett syndrome: lessons learned from humans and animal models. Respir. Physiol. Neurobiol. 1;189(2):280-7. PubMed PMID: 23816600

Pitcher MR1, Ward CS, Arvide EM, Chapleau CA, Pozzo-Miller L, Hoeflich A, Sivaramakrishnan M, Saenger S, Metzger F, Neul JL. (2013) Insulinotropic treatments exacerbate metabolic syndrome in mice lacking MeCP2 function. Hum. Mol. Genet. 1;22(13):2626-33. PubMed PMID: 23462290

Samaco RC, McGraw CM, Ward CS, Sun Y, Neul JL, Zoghbi HY (2013). Female Mecp2(+/-) mice display robust behavioral deficits on two different genetic backgrounds providing a framework for pre-clinical studies. Hum. Mol. Genet. 22(1):96-109. PubMed PMID: 23026749

McCauley MD, Wang T, Mike E, Herrera J, Beavers DL, Huang TW, Ward CS, Skinner S, Percy AK, Glaze DG, Wehrens XH, Neul JL (2011). Pathogenesis of lethal cardiac arrhythmias in Mecp2 mutant mice: implication for therapy in Rett syndrome. Sci. Transl. Med. 3(113): 113ra125. PubMed PMID: 22174313

Ward CS, Arvide EM, Huang TW, Yoo J, Noebels JL, Neul JL (2011). MeCP2 is critical within HoxB1-derived tissues of mice for normal lifespan. J. Neurosci. 31(28): 10359-70. PubMed PMID: 21753013

Samaco RC, Neul JL (2011). Complexities of Rett syndrome and MeCP2. J. Neurosci. 31(22): 7951-9. PubMed PMID: 21632916

Neul JL, Kaufmann WE, Glaze DG, Christodoulou J, Clarke AJ, Bahi-Buisson N, Leonard H, Bailey ME, Schanen NC, Zappella M, Renieri A, Huppke P, Percy AK; RettSearch Consortium (2010). Rett syndrome: revised diagnostic criteria and nomenclature. Ann. Neurol. 68(6): 944-50. PubMed PMID: 21154482

Percy AK, Neul JL, Glaze DG, Motil KJ, Skinner SA, Khwaja O, Lee HS, Lane JB, Barrish JO, Annese F, McNair L, Graham J, Barnes K (2010). Rett syndrome diagnostic criteria: lessons from the Natural History Study. Ann. Neurol. 68(6): 951-5. PubMed PMID: 21104896

Chao HT, Chen H, Samaco RC, Xue M, Chahrour M, Yoo J, Neul JL, Gong S, Lu HC, Heintz N, Ekker M, Rubenstein JL, Noebels JL, Rosenmund C, Zoghbi HY (2010). Dysfunction in GABA signalling mediates autism-like stereotypies and Rett syndrome phenotypes. Nature 468(7321): 263-9. PubMed PMID: 21068835

Samaco RC, Mandel-Brehm C, Chao HT, Ward CS, Fyffe-Maricich SL, Ren J, Hyland K, Thaller C, Maricich SM, Humphreys P, Greer JJ, Percy A, Glaze DG, Zoghbi HY, Neul JL (2009). Loss of MeCP2 in aminergic neurons causes cell-autonomous defects in neurotransmitter synthesis and specific behavioral abnormalities. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U S A 106(51): 21966-71. PubMed PMID: 20007372

Fyffe SL, Neul JL, Samaco RC, Chao HT, Ben-Shachar S, Moretti P, McGill BE, Goulding EH, Sullivan E, Tecott LH, Zoghbi HY (2008). Deletion of Mecp2 in Sim1-expressing neurons reveals a critical role for MeCP2 in feeding behavior, aggression, and the response to stress. Neuron 59(6): 947-58. PubMed PMID: 18817733

Neul JL, Fang P, Barrish J, Lane J, Caeg EB, Smith EO, Zoghbi H, Percy A, Glaze DG. (2008). Specific mutations in methyl-CpG-binding protein 2 confer different severity in Rett syndrome. Neurology 70(16): 1313-21. PubMed PMID: 18337588

Samaco R, Fryer J, Fyffe S, Chao HT, Zoghbi H, Neul JL (2008) A partial loss of function allele of Methyl-CpG-Binding Protein 2 predicts a human neurodevelopmental syndrome. Hum. Mol. Genet. 17(12): 1718-27. PubMed PMID: 18321864