Down syndrome is the most common chromosomal disorder affecting the nervous system in humans. To date, investigations of neural anomalies in Down syndrome have focused on the central nervous system, although dysfunction of the peripheral nervous system is a common manifestation. The molecular and cellular bases underlying peripheral abnormalities have remained undefined.
Researchers report the developmental loss of sympathetic innervation in human Down syndrome organs and in a mouse model.
They show that excess regulator of calcineurin 1 (RCAN1), an endogenous inhibitor of the calcineurin phosphatase that is triplicated in Down syndrome, impairs neurotrophic support of sympathetic neurons by inhibiting endocytosis of the nerve growth factor (NGF) receptor, TrkA.
Genetically correcting RCAN1 levels in Down syndrome mice markedly improves NGF-dependent receptor trafficking, neuronal survival and innervation.
These results uncover a critical link between calcineurin signalling, impaired neurotrophin trafficking and neurodevelopmental deficits in the peripheral nervous system in Down syndrome.