Deletion of the KH1 Domain of Fmr1 Leads to Transcriptional Alterations and Attentional Deficits in Rats

Fragile X syndrome (FXS) is a neurodevelopmental disorder caused by mutations in the FMR1 gene. It is a leading monogenic cause of autism spectrum disorder and inherited intellectual disability and is often comorbid with attention deficits. Most FXS cases are due to an expansion of CGG repeats leading to suppressed expression of fragile X mental retardation protein (FMRP), an RNA-binding protein involved in mRNA metabolism. We found that the previously published Fmr1 knockout rat model of FXS expresses an Fmr1 transcript with an in-frame deletion of exon 8, which encodes for the K-homology (KH) RNA-binding domain, KH1. Notably, 3 pathogenic missense mutations associated with FXS lie in the KH domains. We observed that the deletion of exon 8 in rats leads to attention deficits and to alterations in transcriptional profiles within the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC), which map to 2 weighted gene coexpression network modules. These modules are conserved in human frontal cortex and enriched for known FMRP targets. Hub genes in these modules represent potential therapeutic targets for FXS. Taken together, these findings indicate that attentional testing might be a reliable cross-species tool for investigating FXS and identify dysregulated conserved gene networks in a relevant brain region.

Keywords: 5-choice serial reaction time task; RNA sequencing; fragile X syndrome; medial prefrontal cortex.