Inactivation of ATRX in forebrain excitatory neurons affects hippocampal synaptic plasticity
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α-Thalassemia X-linked intellectual disability (ATR-X) syndrome is a neurodevelopmental disorder caused by mutations in the ATRX gene that encodes a SNF2-type chromatin-remodeling protein. The ATRX protein regulates chromatin structure and gene expression in the developing mouse brain and early inactivation leads to DNA replication stress, extensive cell death, and microcephaly. However, the outcome of Atrx loss of function postnatally in neurons is less well understood. We recently reported that conditional inactivation of Atrx in postnatal forebrain excitatory neurons (ATRX-cKO) causes deficits in long-term hippocampus-dependent spatial memory. Thus, we hypothesized that ATRX-cKO mice will display impaired hippocampal synaptic transmission and plasticity. In the present study, evoked field potentials and current source density analysis were recorded from a multichannel electrode in male, urethane-anesthetized mice. Three major excitatory synapses, the Schaffer collaterals to basal dendrites and proximal apical dendrites, and the temporoammonic path to distal apical dendrites on hippocampal CA1 pyramidal cells were assessed by their baseline synaptic transmission, including paired-pulse facilitation (PPF) at 50-ms interpulse interval, and by their long-term potentiation (LTP) induced by theta-frequency burst stimulation. Baseline single-pulse excitatory response at each synapse did not differ between ATRX-cKO and control mice, but baseline PPF was reduced at the CA1 basal dendritic synapse in ATRX-cKO mice. While basal dendritic LTP of the first-pulse excitatory response was not affected in ATRX-cKO mice, proximal and distal apical dendritic LTP were marginally and significantly reduced, respectively. These results suggest that ATRX is required in excitatory neurons of the forebrain to achieve normal hippocampal LTP and PPF at the CA1 apical and basal dendritic synapses, respectively. Such alterations in hippocampal synaptic transmission and plasticity could explain the long-term spatial memory deficits in ATRX-cKO mice and provide insight into the physiological mechanisms underlying intellectual disability in ATR-X syndrome patients.