We investigated eight families with a novel subtype of congenital generalized lipodystrophy (CGL4) of whom five members had died from sudden cardiac death during their teenage years. ECG studies revealed features of long-QT syndrome, bradycardia, as well as supraventricular and ventricular tachycardias. Further symptoms comprised myopathy with muscle rippling, skeletal as well as smooth-muscle hypertrophy, leading to impaired gastrointestinal motility and hypertrophic pyloric stenosis in some children. Additionally, we found impaired bone formation with osteopenia, osteoporosis, and atlanto-axial instability. Homozygosity mapping located the gene within 2 Mbp on chromosome 17. Prioritization of 74 candidate genes with GeneDistiller for high expression in muscle and adipocytes suggested PTRF-CAVIN (Polymerase I and transcript release factor/Cavin) as the most probable candidate leading to the detection of homozygous mutations (c.160delG, c.362dupT). PTRF-CAVIN is essential for caveolae biogenesis. These cholesterol-rich plasmalemmal vesicles are involved in signal-transduction and vesicular trafficking and reside primarily on adipocytes, myocytes, and osteoblasts. Absence of PTRF-CAVIN did not influence abundance of its binding partner caveolin-1 and caveolin-3. In patient fibroblasts, however, caveolin-1 failed to localize toward the cell surface and electron microscopy revealed reduction of caveolae to less than 3%. Transfection of full-length PTRF-CAVIN reestablished the presence of caveolae. The loss of caveolae was confirmed by Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM) in combination with fluorescent imaging. PTRF-CAVIN deficiency thus presents the phenotypic spectrum caused by a quintessential lack of functional caveolae.
Patients with generalized lipodystrophy have a marked lack of body fat. Several gene defects have been described that impede fat synthesis and maturation of fat cells. Here we report on mutations in a novel gene, called PTRF-CAVIN, causing congenital generalized lipodystrophy type 4 (CGL4) that is additionally associated with muscle disease. Patients' muscles are large but weak and show an involuntary, rolling contraction pattern called “rippling.” Further symptoms comprise life-threatening cardiac arrhythmias and a disorder of bone formation. We searched for shared segments in the genome of seven patients and found the responsible gene, called PTRF-CAVIN, on chromosome 17. This gene is crucial for caveolae (latin for “small caves”) formation. These small indentations of the cell membrane are found on the surface of muscle, bone, fat, and immune cells and facilitate cell-to-cell communication and the absorption of substances from the extracellular space. Patients lack more than 97% of caveolae and artificial insertion of the correct gene into patient skin cells led to the reappearance of caveolae. As cardiac arrhythmia is a severe and potentially life-threatening condition, patients with CGL4 should be closely monitored by ECG and, if necessary, fitted with an implanted pacemaker and cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) device.