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Overcoming genetic and cellular complexity to study the pathophysiology of X-linked intellectual disabilities.

X-linked genetic causes of intellectual disability (ID) account for a substantial proportion of cases and remain poorly understood, in part due to the heterogeneous expression of X-linked genes in females. This is because most genes on the X chromosome are subject to random X chromosome inactivation (XCI) during early embryonic development, which results in a mosaic pattern of gene expression for a given X-linked mutant allele. This mosaic expression produces substantial complexity, especially when attempting to study the already complicated neural circuits that underly behavior, thus impeding the understanding of disease-related pathophysiology and the development of therapeutics. Here, we review a few selected X-linked forms of ID that predominantly affect heterozygous females and the current obstacles for developing effective therapies for such disorders. We also propose a genetic strategy to overcome the complexity presented by mosaicism in heterozygous females and highlight specific tools for studying synaptic and circuit mechanisms, many of which could be shared across multiple forms of intellectual disability.

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