Methyl-CpG binding protein 2 (MeCP2) is a nuclear protein critical for normal brain function, and both depletion and overexpression of MeCP2 lead to severe neurodevelopmental disease, Rett syndrome (RTT) and MECP2 multiplication disorder, respectively. However, the molecular mechanism by which abnormal MeCP2 dosage causes neuronal dysfunction remains unclear. As MeCP2 expression is nearly equivalent to that of core histones and because it binds DNA throughout the genome, one possible function of MeCP2 is to regulate the 3D structure of chromatin. Here, to examine whether and how MeCP2 levels impact chromatin structure, we used high-resolution confocal and electron microscopy and examined heterochromatic foci of neurons in mice. Using models of RTT and MECP2 triplication syndrome, we found that the heterochromatin structure was significantly affected by the alteration in MeCP2 levels. Analysis of mice expressing either MeCP2-R270X or MeCP2-G273X, which have nonsense mutations in the upstream and downstream regions of the AT-hook 2 domain, respectively, showed that the magnitude of heterochromatin changes was tightly correlated with the phenotypic severity. Postnatal alteration in MeCP2 levels also induced significant changes in the heterochromatin structure, which underscored importance of correct MeCP2 dosage in mature neurons. Finally, functional analysis of MeCP2-overexpressing mice showed that the behavioral and transcriptomic alterations in these mice correlated significantly with the MeCP2 levels and occurred in parallel with the heterochromatin changes. Taken together, our findings demonstrate the essential role of MeCP2 in regulating the 3D structure of neuronal chromatin, which may serve as a potential mechanism that drives pathogenesis of MeCP2-related disorders.
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