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Mafa-dependent GABAergic activity promotes mouse neonatal apneas

Lecoin L#, Dempsey B, Garancher A, Bourane S, Ruffault PL, Morin-Surun MP, Rocques N, Goulding M, Eychène A, Pouponnot C#, Fortin G#, Champagnat J.

# Corresponding authors


While apneas are associated with multiple pathological and fatal conditions, the underlying molecular mechanisms remain elusive. We report that a mutated form of the transcription factor Mafa (Mafa4A) that prevents phosphorylation of the Mafa protein leads to an abnormally high incidence of breath holding apneas and death in newborn Mafa4A/4A mutant mice. This apneic breathing is phenocopied by restricting the mutation to central GABAergic inhibitory neurons and by activation of inhibitory Mafa neurons while reversed by inhibiting GABAergic transmission centrally. We find that Mafa activates the Gad2 promoter in vitro and that this activation is enhanced by the mutation that likely results in increased inhibitory drives onto target neurons. We also find that Mafa inhibitory neurons are absent from respiratory, sensory (primary and secondary) and pontine structures but are present in the vicinity of the hypoglossal motor nucleus including premotor neurons that innervate the geniohyoid muscle, to control upper airway patency. Altogether, our data reveal a role for Mafa phosphorylation in regulation of GABAergic drives and suggest a mechanism whereby reduced premotor drives to upper airway muscles may cause apneic breathing at birth.

More information

Nat Commun. 2022. Jun 7 ;13(1):3284. doi : 10.1038/s41467-022-30825-3.