Pruning of structural synapses occurs with development and learning. A deficit in pruning of cortical excitatory synapses and the resulting hyperconnectivity is hypothesized to underlie the etiology of fragile X syndrome (FXS) and related autistic disorders. However, clear evidence for pruning in neocortex and its impairment in FXS remains elusive. Using simultaneous recordings of pyramidal neurons in the layer 5A neocortical network of the wild-type (WT) mouse to observe cell-to-cell connections in isolation, we demonstrate here a specific form of "connection pruning." Connection frequency among pyramidal neurons decreases between the third and fifth postnatal weeks, indicating a period of connection pruning. Over the same interval in the FXS model mouse, the Fmr1 knock-out (KO), connection frequency does not decrease. Therefore, connection frequency in the fifth week is higher in the Fmr1 KO compared with WT, indicating a state of hyperconnectivity. These alterations are due to postsynaptic deletion of Fmr1. At early ages (2 weeks), postsynaptic Fmr1 promoted the maturation of cell-to-cell connections, but not their number. These findings indicate that impaired connection pruning at later ages, and not an excess of connection formation, underlies the hyperconnectivity in the Fmr1 KO mouse. FMRP did not appear to regulate synapses individually, but instead regulated cell-to-cell connectivity in which groups of synapses mediating a single cell-to-cell connection are uniformly removed, retained, and matured. Although we do not link connection pruning directly to the pruning of structurally defined synapses, this study nevertheless provides an important model system for studying altered pruning in FXS.
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