Skip to main content

Hyperexcitability and Homeostasis in Fragile X Syndrome


Fragile X Syndrome (FXS) is a leading inherited cause of autism and intellectual disability, resulting from a mutation in the FMR1 gene and subsequent loss of its protein product FMRP. Despite this simple genetic origin, FXS is a phenotypically complex disorder with a range of physical and neurocognitive disruptions. While numerous molecular and cellular pathways are affected by FMRP loss, there is growing evidence that circuit hyperexcitability may be a common convergence point that can account for many of the wide-ranging phenotypes seen in FXS. The mechanisms for hyperexcitability in FXS include alterations to excitatory synaptic function and connectivity, reduced inhibitory neuron activity, as well as changes to ion channel expression and conductance. However, understanding the impact of FMR1 mutation on circuit function is complicated by the inherent plasticity in neural circuits, which display an array of homeostatic mechanisms to maintain activity near set levels. FMRP is also an important regulator of activity-dependent plasticity in the brain, meaning that dysregulated plasticity can be both a cause and consequence of hyperexcitable networks in FXS. This makes it difficult to separate the direct effects of FMR1 mutation from the myriad and pleiotropic compensatory changes associated with it, both of which are likely to contribute to FXS pathophysiology. Here we will: (1) review evidence for hyperexcitability and homeostatic plasticity phenotypes in FXS models, focusing on similarities/differences across brain regions, cell-types, and developmental time points; (2) examine how excitability and plasticity disruptions interact with each other to ultimately contribute to circuit dysfunction in FXS; and (3) discuss how these synaptic and circuit deficits contribute to disease-relevant behavioral phenotypes like epilepsy and sensory hypersensitivity. Through this discussion of where the current field stands, we aim to introduce perspectives moving forward in FXS research.