Rett Syndrome (RTT) is a severe form of X-linked mental retardation caused by mutations in the gene coding for methyl CpGbinding protein 2 (MECP2). Mice deficient in MeCP2 have a range
of physiological and neurological abnormalities that mimic the human syndrome. Here we show that systemic treatment of MeCP2 mutant mice with an active peptide fragment of Insulin-like
Growth Factor 1 (IGF-1) extends the life span of the mice, improves locomotor function, ameliorates breathing patterns, and reduces irregularity in heart rate. In addition, treatment with IGF-1 peptide increases brain weight of the mutant mice. Multiple measurements support the hypothesis that RTT results from a deficit in synaptic maturation in the brain: MeCP2 mutant mice have sparse dendritic spines and reduced PSD-95 in motor cortex pyramidal neurons, reduced synaptic amplitude in the same neurons, and protracted cortical plasticity in vivo. Treatment with IGF-1 peptide partially restores spine density and synaptic amplitude, increases PSD-95,
and stabilizes cortical plasticity to wild-type levels. Our results thus strongly suggest IGF-1 as a candidate for pharmacological treatment of RTT and potentially of other CNS disorders caused by delayed synapse maturation.