Vivo-Morpholinos: Same oligos, from cultures to critters -


Fragile X mental retardation protein has a unique, evolutionarily conserved neuronal function not shared with FXR1P or FXR2P
R. Lane Coffee, Jr, Charles R. Tessier, Elvin A. Woodruff III, Kendal Broadie


Fragile X syndrome (FXS), resulting solely from the loss of function of the human fragile X mental retardation 1 (hFMR1) gene, is the most common heritable cause of mental retardation and autism disorders, with syndromic defects also in non-neuronal tissues. In addition, the human genome encodes two closely related hFMR1 paralogs: hFXR1 and hFXR2. The Drosophila genome, by contrast, encodes a single dFMR1 gene with close sequence homology to all three human genes. Drosophila that lack the dFMR1 gene (dfmr1 null mutants) recapitulate FXS-associated molecular, cellular and behavioral phenotypes, suggesting that FMR1 function has been conserved, albeit with specific functions possibly sub-served by the expanded human gene family. To test evolutionary conservation, we used tissue-targeted transgenic expression of all three human genes in the Drosophila disease model to investigate function at (1) molecular, (2) neuronal and (3) non-neuronal levels. In neurons, dfmr1 null mutants exhibit elevated protein levels that alter the central brain and neuromuscular junction (NMJ) synaptic architecture, including an increase in synapse area, branching and bouton numbers. Importantly, hFMR1 can, comparably to dFMR1, fully rescue both the molecular and cellular defects in neurons, whereas hFXR1 and hFXR2 provide absolutely no rescue. For non-neuronal requirements, we assayed male fecundity and testes function. dfmr1 null mutants are effectively sterile owing to disruption of the 9+2 microtubule organization in the sperm tail. Importantly, all three human genes fully and equally rescue mutant fecundity and spermatogenesis defects. These results indicate that FMR1 gene function is evolutionarily conserved in neural mechanisms and cannot be compensated by either FXR1 or FXR2, but that all three proteins can substitute for each other in non-neuronal requirements. We conclude that FMR1 has a neural-specific function that is distinct from its paralogs, and that the unique FMR1 function is responsible for regulating neuronal protein expression and synaptic connectivity.



    The authors declare no competing financial interests.


    All four authors contributed directly to this study. R.L.C. designed some experiments, performed most of the experiments, analyzed data and co-wrote the manuscript. C.R.T. performed some of the experiments, helped analyze the data and edited the manuscript. E.A.W. performed all of the ultrastructural analyses, analyzed the electron microscopy data and edited the manuscript. K.B. conceived the study, designed the experiments, supervised all experimental work and cowrote the manuscript.


    Supplementary material for this article is available at

  • Received October 1, 2009.
  • Accepted December 28, 2009.
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