Autosomal recessive congenital ichthyosis (ARCI) is a rare genetic disorder of the skin characterized by abnormal desquamation over the whole body. In this study we report four patients from three consanguineous Tunisian families with skin, eye, heart, and skeletal anomalies, who harbor a homozygous contiguous gene deletion syndrome on chromosome 15q26.3. Genome-wide SNP-genotyping revealed a homozygous region in all affected individuals, including the same microdeletion that partially affects two coding genes (ADAMTS17, CERS3) and abolishes a sequence for a long non-coding RNA (FLJ42289). Whereas mutations in ADAMTS17 have recently been identified in autosomal recessive Weill-Marchesani-like syndrome in humans and dogs presenting with ophthalmologic, cardiac, and skeletal abnormalities, no disease associations have been described for CERS3 (ceramide synthase 3) and FLJ42289 so far. However, analysis of additional patients with non-syndromic ARCI revealed a splice site mutation in CERS3 indicating that a defect in ceramide synthesis is causative for the present skin phenotype of our patients. Functional analysis of patient skin and in vitro differentiated keratinocytes demonstrated that mutations in CERS3 lead to a disturbed sphingolipid profile with reduced levels of epidermis-specific very long-chain ceramides that interferes with epidermal differentiation. Taken together, these data present a novel pathway involved in ARCI development and, moreover, provide the first evidence that CERS3 plays an essential role in human sphingolipid metabolism for the maintenance of epidermal lipid homeostasis.
Autosomal recessive congenital ichthyosis (ARCI) is a heterogeneous group of human keratinization disorders mainly characterized by generalized abnormal scaling of the skin. To date, positional cloning and homozygosity mapping of families with ARCI have identified disease-associated mutations in seven genes: ABCA12, ALOX12B, ALOXE3, CYP4F22, ICHTHYIN, PNPLA1, and TGM1. The reported molecular mechanisms underlying disease development are related to defects in epidermal lipid pathways that interfere with terminal keratinocyte differentiation and skin barrier function. In this study we used genome-wide SNP mapping, which identified homozygous mutations in the CERS3 (ceramide synthase 3) gene that cause a new type of ARCI. Functional analysis of a skin sample and in vitro differentiated keratinocytes from one patient demonstrated that mutated CERS3 impairs the synthesis of ceramides with very long-chain acyl moieties. The defect in sphingolipid metabolism disturbs the epidermal lipid profile, which leads to an abnormal terminal differentiation process. In summary, mutations in CERS3 are causative for ARCI and illustrate the important role of ceramide synthesis in human skin physiology.