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Early motor disturbances in Rett syndrome and its pathophysiological importance

      Abstract

      Assessment of the development of motor function of Rett syndrome (RTT) revealed hypotonia with failure of crawling and disturbance in skillful hand manipulation are shown as early motor signs. Clinical evaluation has revealed the former as postural hypotonia with failure in locomotion and neurophysiological examinations have showed this to be due to hypofunction of the aminergic neurons of the brainstem. The latter signs are considered to indicate dysfunction of the corticospinal tract at higher levels. As the signs appear along with deceleration of head growth, dysfunction of the noradrenergic neuron, which is involved in synaptogenesis in the cerebral cortex, is postulated as the cause. The characteristic stereotyped hand movements appear in early childhood after loss of purposeful hand use and are underlain by rigid hypertonus. Neurophysiological examinations have indicated that these are due to hypofunction of the nigrostriatal (NS) dopamine (DA) neuron. By comparison with animal experimental work the neurohistochemical changes in the substantia nigra of the autopsied brain of RTT suggest a lesion caused by the dysfunction of the pedunculopontine nucleus, induced by dysfunction of the brainstem aminergic neurons which modulate postural tone and locomotion. Hypofunction of the aminergic neurons also cause ‘leakage’ of atonia into nonREM stages which lead to disturbances in the autonomic nervous system through inhibition of the reflex system. The grade of disturbance of locomotion closely matches the grade in abnormalities of higher cortical function as indicated by the development of meaningful words. The loci of missense mutation of methyl CPG binding domain of MECP 2gene which affect locomotion severely also markedly impaired their effects on the formation of the heterochromatin. Thus, dysfunction of the aminergic neurons of the brainstem which regulate postural tone and locomotion is proposed as the primary lesion.

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