Mutations in genes encoding chromatin-remodeling proteins, such as the ATRX gene, underlie a number of genetic disorders including several X-linked mental retardation syndromes; however, the role of these proteins in normal CNS development is unknown. Here, we used a conditional gene-targeting approach to inactivate Atrx, specifically in the forebrain of mice. Loss of ATRX protein caused widespread hypocellularity in the neocortex and hippocampus and a pronounced reduction in forebrain size. Neuronal “birthdating” confirmed that fewer neurons reached the superficial cortical layers, despite normal progenitor cell proliferation. The loss of cortical mass resulted from a 12-fold increase in neuronal apoptosis during early stages of corticogenesis in the mutant animals. Moreover, cortical progenitors isolated from Atrx-null mice undergo enhanced apoptosis upon differentiation. Taken together, our results indicate that ATRX is a critical mediator of cell survival during early neuronal differentiation. Thus, increased neuronal loss may contribute to the severe mental retardation observed in human patients.
Nathalie G. Bérubé, Marie Mangelsdorf, Magdalena Jagla, Jackie Vanderluit, David Garrick, Richard J. Gibbons, Douglas R. Higgs, Ruth S. Slack, David J. Picketts