Altered neural activity of magnitude estimation processing in adults with the fragile X premutation

So-Yeon Kim, Ryu-ichiro Hashimoto, Flora Tassone, Tony J Simon, Susan M Rivera
Journal of Psychiatric Research 2013, 47 (12): 1909-16
Mutations of the fragile X mental retardation 1 (FMR1) gene are the genetic cause of fragile X syndrome (FXS). Expanded CGG trinucleotide repeat (>200 repeats) result in transcriptional silencing of the FMR1 gene and deficiency/absence of the FMR1 protein (FMRP). Carriers with a premutation allele (55-200 CGG repeats) are often associated with mildly reduced levels of FMRP and/or elevated levels of FMR1 mRNA, and are associated with the risk of developing a neurodegenerative disorder known as fragile X-associated tremor/ataxia syndrome (FXTAS). While impairments in numerical processing have been well documented in FXS, recent behavioral research suggests that premutation carriers also present with subtle but significant impairments in numerical processing. Using fMRI, the current study examined whether asymptomatic adults with the premutation would show aberrant neural correlates of magnitude estimation processing in the fronto-parietal area. Using a magnitude estimation task, we demonstrated that activity in the intraparietal sulcus and inferior frontal gyrus, associated with magnitude estimation processing, was significantly attenuated in premutation carriers compared to their neurotypical counterparts despite their comparable behavioral performance. Further, multiple regression analysis using CGG repeat size and FMR1 mRNA indicated that increased CGG repeat size is a primary factor for the decreased fronto-parietal activity, suggesting that reduced FMRP, rather than a toxic gain-of-function effect from elevated mRNA, contributes to altered neural activity of magnitude estimation processing in premutation carriers. In conclusion, we provide the first evidence on the aberrant neural correlates of magnitude estimation processing in premutation carriers accounted for by their FMR1 gene expression.

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