Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Chun Jiang

Second Advisor

Vincent Rehder

Third Advisor

Deborah Baro


Rett Syndrome (RTT) is a neurodevelopmental disorder affecting 1 out of 10,000 females worldwide. Mutations of the X-linked MECP2 gene encoding methyl CpG binding protein 2 (MeCP2) accounts for >90% of RTT cases. People with RTT and mice with Mecp2 disruption show autonomic dysfunction, especially life-threatening breathing disorders, which involves defects in brainstem neurons for breathing controls, including neurons in the locus coeruleus (LC). Accumulating evidence obtained from Mecp2−/Y mice suggests that imbalanced excitation/inhibition or the impaired synaptic communications in central neurons plays a major role. LC neurons in Mecp2−/Ymice are hyperexcited, attributable to the deficiency in GABA synaptic inhibition. Several previous studies indicate that augmenting synaptic GABA receptors (GABARs) leads to a relief of RTT-like symptoms in mice. The extrasynaptic GABARs located outside synaptic cleft, which have the capability to produce sustained inhibition, and may be a potential therapeutic target for the rebalance of excitation/inhibition in RTT. In contrast to the rich information of the synaptic GABARs in RTT research, however, whether Mecp2 gene disruption affects the extrasynaptic GABARs remains unclear. In this study, we show evidence that the extrasynaptic GABAR mediated tonic inhibition of LC neurons was enhanced in Mecp2−/Ymice, which seems attributable to the augmented δ subunit expression. Low-dose THIP exposure, an agonist specific to δ subunit containing extrasynaptic GABARs, extended the lifespan, alleviated breathing abnormalities, enhanced motor function, and improved social behaviors of Mecp2−/Ymice. Such beneficial effects were associated with stabilization of brainstem neuronal hyperexcitability, including neurons in the LC and the mesencephalic trigeminal V nucleus (Me5), and improvement of norepinephrine (NE) biosynthesis. Such phenomena were found in symptomatic Mecp2+/− (sMecp2+/−) female mice model as well, in which the THIP exposure alleviated the hyperexcitability of both LC and Me5 neurons to a similar level as their counterparts in Mecp2−/Y mice, and improved breathing function. In identified LC neurons of sMecp2+/− mice, the hyperexcitability appeared to be determined by both MeCP2 expression and their environmental cues. In conclusion, intervention to extrasynaptic GABAAR by chronic treatment with THIP might be a therapeutic approach to RTT-like symptoms in both Mecp2−/Y and Mecp2+/− mice models and perhaps in people with RTT as well.