Fragile X premutation alleles have 55-200 CGG repeats in the 5' UTR of the FMR1 gene. Altered zinc (Zn) homeostasis has been reported in fibroblasts from > 60 years old premutation carriers, in which Zn supplementation significantly restored Zn-dependent mitochondrial protein import/processing and function. Given that mitochondria play a critical role in synaptic transmission, brain function, and cognition, we tested FMRP protein expression, brain bioenergetics, and expression of the Zn-dependent synaptic scaffolding protein SH3 and multiple ankyrin repeat domains 3 (Shank3) in a knock-in (KI) premutation mouse model with 180 CGG repeats. Mitochondrial outcomes correlated with FMRP protein expression (but not FMR1 gene expression) in KI mice and human fibroblasts from carriers of the pre- and full-mutation. Significant deficits in brain bioenergetics, Zn levels, and Shank3 protein expression were observed in the Zn-rich regions KI hippocampus and cerebellum at PND21, with some of these effects lasting into adulthood (PND210). A strong genotype × age interaction was observed for most of the outcomes tested in hippocampus and cerebellum, whereas in cortex, age played a major role. Given that the most significant effects were observed at the end of the lactation period, we hypothesized that KI milk might have a role at compounding the deleterious effects on the FMR1 genetic background. A higher gene expression of ZnT4 and ZnT6, Zn transporters abundant in brain and lactating mammary glands, was observed in the latter tissue of KI dams. A cross-fostering experiment allowed improving cortex bioenergetics in KI pups nursing on WT milk. Conversely, WT pups nursing on KI milk showed deficits in hippocampus and cerebellum bioenergetics. A highly significant milk type × genotype interaction was observed for all three-brain regions, being cortex the most influenced. Finally, lower milk-Zn levels were recorded in milk from lactating women carrying the premutation as well as other Zn-related outcomes (Zn-dependent alkaline phosphatase activity and lactose biosynthesis-whose limiting step is the Zn-dependent β-1,4-galactosyltransferase). In premutation carriers, altered Zn homeostasis, brain bioenergetics and Shank3 levels could be compounded by Zn-deficient milk, increasing the risk of developing emotional and neurological/cognitive problems and/or FXTAS later in life.
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