β-III spectrin is present in the brain and is known to be important in the function of the cerebellum. Heterozygous mutations in SPTBN2, the gene encoding β-III spectrin, cause Spinocerebellar Ataxia Type 5 (SCA5), an adult-onset, slowly progressive, autosomal-dominant pure cerebellar ataxia. SCA5 is sometimes known as “Lincoln ataxia,” because the largest known family is descended from relatives of the United States President Abraham Lincoln. Using targeted capture and next-generation sequencing, we identified a homozygous stop codon in SPTBN2 in a consanguineous family in which childhood developmental ataxia co-segregates with cognitive impairment. The cognitive impairment could result from mutations in a second gene, but further analysis using whole-genome sequencing combined with SNP array analysis did not reveal any evidence of other mutations. We also examined a mouse knockout of β-III spectrin in which ataxia and progressive degeneration of cerebellar Purkinje cells has been previously reported and found morphological abnormalities in neurons from prefrontal cortex and deficits in object recognition tasks, consistent with the human cognitive phenotype. These data provide the first evidence that β-III spectrin plays an important role in cortical brain development and cognition, in addition to its function in the cerebellum; and we conclude that cognitive impairment is an integral part of this novel recessive ataxic syndrome, Spectrin-associated Autosomal Recessive Cerebellar Ataxia type 1 (SPARCA1). In addition, the identification of SPARCA1 and normal heterozygous carriers of the stop codon in SPTBN2 provides insights into the mechanism of molecular dominance in SCA5 and demonstrates that the cell-specific repertoire of spectrin subunits underlies a novel group of disorders, the neuronal spectrinopathies, which includes SCA5, SPARCA1, and a form of West syndrome.
β-III spectrin is present in the brain and is known to be important in the function of the cerebellum. Mutations in β-III spectrin cause spinocerebellar ataxia type 5 (SCA5), sometimes called Lincoln ataxia because it was first described in the relatives of United States President Abraham Lincoln. This is generally an adult-onset progressive cerebellar disorder. Recessive mutations have not previously been described in any of the brain spectrins. We identified a homozygous mutation in SPTBN2, which causes a more severe disorder than SCA5, with a developmental cerebellar ataxia, which is present from childhood; in addition there is marked cognitive impairment. We call this novel condition SPARCA1 (Spectrin-associated Autosomal Recessive Cerebellar Ataxia type 1). This condition could be caused by two separate gene mutations; but we show, using a combination of genome-wide mapping, whole-genome sequencing, and detailed behavioural and neuropathological analysis of a β-III spectrin mouse knockout, that both the ataxia and cognitive impairment are caused by the recessive mutations in β-III spectrin. SPARCA1 is one of a family of neuronal spectrinopathies and illustrates the importance of spectrins in brain development and function.