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1.  Deficiency of asparagine synthetase causes congenital microcephaly and a progressive form of encephalopathy 
Neuron  2013;80(2):10.1016/j.neuron.2013.08.013.
We analyzed four families that presented with a similar condition characterized by congenital microcephaly, intellectual disability, progressive cerebral atrophy and intractable seizures. We show that recessive mutations in the ASNS gene are responsible for this syndrome. Two of the identified missense mutations dramatically reduce ASNS protein abundance, suggesting that the mutations cause loss of function. Hypomorphic Asns mutant mice have structural brain abnormalities, including enlarged ventricles and reduced cortical thickness, and show deficits in learning and memory mimicking aspects of the patient phenotype. ASNS encodes asparagine synthetase, which catalyzes the synthesis of asparagine from glutamine and aspartate. The neurological impairment resulting from ASNS deficiency may be explained by asparagine depletion in the brain, or by accumulation of aspartate/glutamate leading to enhanced excitability and neuronal damage. Our study thus indicates that asparagine synthesis is essential for the development and function of the brain but not for that of other organs.
PMCID: PMC3820368  PMID: 24139043
2.  Murine isoforms of UDP-GlcNAc 2-epimerase/ManNAc kinase: Secondary structures, expression profiles, and response to ManNAc therapy 
Glycoconjugate journal  2012;30(6):609-618.
The bifunctional enzyme UDP-GlcNAc 2-epimerase/ManNAc kinase (GNE) catalyzes the first two committed steps in sialic acid synthesis. Non-allosteric GNE gene mutations cause the muscular disorder GNE myopathy (also known as hereditary inclusion body myopathy), whose exact pathology remains unknown. Increased knowledge of GNE regulation, including isoform regulation, may help elucidate the pathology of GNE myopathy. While eight mRNA transcripts encoding human GNE isoforms are described, we only identified two mouse Gne mRNA transcripts, encoding mGne1 and mGne2, homologous to human hGNE1 and hGNE2. Orthologs of the other human isoforms were not identified in mice. mGne1 appeared as the ubiquitously expressed, major mouse isoform. The mGne2 encoding transcript is differentially expressed and may act as a tissue-specific regulator of sialylation. mGne2 expression appeared significantly increased the first two days of life, possibly reflecting the high sialic acid demand during this period. Tissues of the knock-in Gne p.M712T mouse model had similar mGne transcript expression levels among genotypes, indicating no effect of the mutation on mRNA expression. However, upon treatment of these mice with N-acetylmannosamine (ManNAc, a Gne substrate, sialic acid precursor, and proposed therapy for GNE myopathy), Gne transcript expression, in particular mGne2, increased significantly, likely resulting in increased Gne enzymatic activities. This dual effect of ManNAc supplementation (increased flux through the sialic acid pathway and increased Gne activity) needs to be considered when treating GNE myopathy patients with ManNAc. In addition, the existence and expression of GNE isoforms needs consideration when designing other therapeutic strategies for GNE myopathy.
PMCID: PMC3622838  PMID: 23266873
GNE myopathy; isoforms; mouse; UDP-GlcNAc 2-epimerase/ManNAc kinase
3.  Phenylbutyrate increases pyruvate dehydrogenase complex activity in cells harboring a variety of defects 
Deficiency of pyruvate dehydrogenase complex (PDHC) is the most common genetic disorder leading to lactic acidosis. PDHC deficiency is genetically heterogenous and most patients have defects in the X-linked E1-α gene but defects in the other components of the complex encoded by PDHB, PDHX, DLAT, DLD genes or in the regulatory enzyme encoded by PDP1 have also been found. Phenylbutyrate enhances PDHC enzymatic activity in vitro and in vivo by increasing the proportion of unphosphorylated enzyme through inhibition of pyruvate dehydrogenase kinases and thus, has potential for therapy of patients with PDHC deficiency. In the present study, we investigated response to phenylbutyrate of multiple cell lines harboring all known gene defects resulting in PDHC deficiency.
Fibroblasts of patients with PDHC deficiency were studied for their enzyme activity at baseline and following phenylbutyrate incubation. Drug responses were correlated with genotypes and protein levels by Western blotting.
Large deletions affecting PDHA1 that result in lack of detectable protein were unresponsive to phenylbutyrate, whereas increased PDHC activity was detected in most fibroblasts harboring PDHA1 missense mutations. Mutations affecting the R349-α residue were directed to proteasome degradation and were consistently unresponsive to short-time drug incubation but longer incubation resulted in increased levels of enzyme activity and protein that may be due to an additional effect of phenylbutyrate as a molecular chaperone.
PDHC enzyme activity was enhanced by phenylbutyrate in cells harboring missense mutations in PDHB, PDHX, DLAT, DLD, and PDP1 genes. In the prospect of a clinical trial, the results of this study may allow prediction of in vivo response in patients with PDHC deficiency harboring a wide spectrum of molecular defects.
PMCID: PMC4184775  PMID: 25356417
4.  A Human Integrin-α3 Mutation Confers Major Renal Developmental Defects 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(3):e90879.
The development of the mammalian kidney is a highly complex process dependent upon the interplay of various cell types, secreted morphogens, and the extra-cellular matrix (ECM). Although integrins are the most important receptors for ECM proteins and are ubiquitously expressed during kidney development, mice lacking expression of integrin α3 (Itga3) do not demonstrate a reduced number of nephrons, but mostly a disorganized GBM (glomerular basement membrane) leading to proteinuria. Thus, ITGA3 is considered mostly a passive GBM stabilizer and not an active player in nephrogenesis. Recently, mutations in the human ITGA3 were shown to cause congenital nephrotic syndrome, epidermolysis bullosa and interstitial lung disease, otherwise termed NEP syndrome (Nephrotic syndrome, Epidermolysis bullosa and Pulmonary disease). Herein, we performed histological and molecular analysis on the kidneys of a single patient from the initial cohort harboring an ITGA3 mutation, to illuminate the role of ITGA3 in human renal development. We show the patient to harbor a unique phenotype at birth, including severe unilateral renal hypodysplasia. Interrogation of global gene expression in the hypodysplastic kidney versus three controls (fetal, child and adult kidneys) revealed perturbed expression in several renal developmental pathways implicated in hypodysplasia, including the Wnt, BMP (bone morphogenetic protein) and TGF (transforming growth factor) pathways. Moreover, the affected kidney showed upregulation of early embryonic genes (e.g. OCT4 and PAX8) concomitant with downregulated kidney differentiation markers, implying a defect in proper renal differentiation. In conclusion, we show for the first time that ITGA3 is not merely a passive anchor for renal ECM proteins, as predicted by mouse models. Instead, our results may suggest it plays a central role in the interplay of cells, morphogens and ECM, required for proper nephrogenesis, thus adding ITGA3 to the list of CAKUT (congenital anomalies of the kidney and urinary tract)-causing genes.
PMCID: PMC3951280  PMID: 24621570
5.  Dopamine transporter deficiency syndrome: phenotypic spectrum from infancy to adulthood 
Brain  2014;137(4):1107-1119.
Dopamine transporter deficiency syndrome is an SLC6A3-related progressive infantile-onset parkinsonism-dystonia that mimics cerebral palsy. Ng et al. describe clinical features and molecular findings in a new cohort of patients. They report infants with classical disease, as well as young adults manifesting as atypical juvenile-onset parkinsonism-dystonia, thereby expanding the disease spectrum.
Dopamine transporter deficiency syndrome due to SLC6A3 mutations is the first inherited dopamine ‘transportopathy’ to be described, with a classical presentation of early infantile-onset progressive parkinsonism dystonia. In this study we have identified a new cohort of patients with dopamine transporter deficiency syndrome, including, most significantly, atypical presentation later in childhood with a milder disease course. We report the detailed clinical features, molecular genetic findings and in vitro functional investigations undertaken for adult and paediatric cases. Patients presenting with parkinsonism dystonia or a neurotransmitter profile characteristic of dopamine transporter deficiency syndrome were recruited for study. SLC6A3 mutational analysis was undertaken in all patients. The functional consequences of missense variants on the dopamine transporter were evaluated by determining the effect of mutant dopamine transporter on dopamine uptake, protein expression and amphetamine-mediated dopamine efflux using an in vitro cellular heterologous expression system. We identified eight new patients from five unrelated families with dopamine transporter deficiency syndrome. The median age at diagnosis was 13 years (range 1.5–34 years). Most significantly, the case series included three adolescent males with atypical dopamine transporter deficiency syndrome of juvenile onset (outside infancy) and progressive parkinsonism dystonia. The other five patients in the cohort presented with classical infantile-onset parkinsonism dystonia, with one surviving into adulthood (currently aged 34 years) and labelled as having ‘juvenile parkinsonism’. All eight patients harboured homozygous or compound heterozygous mutations in SLC6A3, of which the majority are previously unreported variants. In vitro studies of mutant dopamine transporter demonstrated multifaceted loss of dopamine transporter function. Impaired dopamine uptake was universally present, and more severely impacted in dopamine transporter mutants causing infantile-onset rather than juvenile-onset disease. Dopamine transporter mutants also showed diminished dopamine binding affinity, reduced cell surface transporter, loss of post-translational dopamine transporter glycosylation and failure of amphetamine-mediated dopamine efflux. Our data series expands the clinical phenotypic continuum of dopamine transporter deficiency syndrome and indicates that there is a phenotypic spectrum from infancy (early onset, rapidly progressive disease) to childhood/adolescence and adulthood (later onset, slower disease progression). Genotype–phenotype analysis in this cohort suggests that higher residual dopamine transporter activity is likely to contribute to postponing disease presentation in these later-onset adult cases. Dopamine transporter deficiency syndrome remains under-recognized and our data highlights that dopamine transporter deficiency syndrome should be considered as a differential diagnosis for both infantile- and juvenile-onset movement disorders, including cerebral palsy and juvenile parkinsonism.
PMCID: PMC3959557  PMID: 24613933
dopamine; dopamine transporter (DAT); juvenile; parkinsonism; dystonia; SLC6A3
6.  A Congenital Neutrophil Defect Syndrome Associated with Mutations in VPS45 
Neutrophils are the predominant phagocytes that provide protection against bacterial and fungal infections. Genetically determined neutrophil disorders confer a predisposition to severe infections and reveal novel mechanisms that control vesicular trafficking, hematopoiesis, and innate immunity.
We clinically evaluated seven children from five families who had neutropenia, neutrophil dysfunction, bone marrow fibrosis, and nephromegaly. To identify the causative gene, we performed homozygosity mapping using single-nucleotide polymorphism arrays, whole-exome sequencing, immunoblotting, immunofluorescence, electron microscopy, a real-time quantitative polymerase–chain-reaction assay, immunohistochemistry, flow cytometry, fibroblast motility assays, measurements of apoptosis, and zebrafish models. Correction experiments were performed by transfecting mutant fibroblasts with the nonmutated gene.
All seven affected children had homozygous mutations (Thr224Asn or Glu238Lys, depending on the child's ethnic origin) in VPS45, which encodes a protein that regulates membrane trafficking through the endosomal system. The level of VPS45 protein was reduced, as were the VPS45 binding partners rabenosyn-5 and syntaxin-16. The level of β1 integrin was reduced on the surface of VPS45-deficient neutrophils and fibroblasts. VPS45-deficient fibroblasts were characterized by impaired motility and increased apoptosis. A zebrafish model of vps45 deficiency showed a marked paucity of myeloperoxidase-positive cells (i.e., neutrophils). Transfection of patient cells with nonmutated VPS45 corrected the migration defect and decreased apoptosis.
Defective endosomal intracellular protein trafficking due to biallelic mutations in VPS45 underlies a new immunodeficiency syndrome involving impaired neutrophil function. (Funded by the National Human Genome Research Institute and others.)
PMCID: PMC3787600  PMID: 23738510
7.  Recombination mapping using Boolean logic and high-density SNP genotyping for exome sequence filtering 
Molecular genetics and metabolism  2011;105(3):382-389.
Whole genome sequence data for small pedigrees has been shown to provide sufficient information to resolve detailed haplotypes in small pedigrees. Using such information, recombinations can be mapped onto chromosomes, compared with the segregation of a disease of interest and used to filter genome sequence variants. We now show that relatively inexpensive SNP array data from small pedigrees can be used in a similar manner to provide a means of identifying regions of interest in exome sequencing projects. We demonstrate that in those situations where one can assume complete penetrance and parental DNA is available, SNP recombination mapping using Boolean logic identifies chromosomal regions identical to those detected by multipoint linkage using microsatellites but with much less computation. We further show that this approach is successful because the probability of a double crossover between informative SNP loci is negligible. Our observations provide a rationale for using SNP arrays and recombination mapping as a rapid and cost-effective means of incorporating chromosome segregation information into exome sequencing projects intended for disease-gene identification.
PMCID: PMC3515651  PMID: 22264778
Linkage; Recombination; Mapping; Exome sequencing; Single nucleotide variants
8.  Cellular and clinical report of new Griscelli syndrome type III cases 
The RAB27A/Melanophilin/Myosin-5a tripartite protein complex is required for capturing mature melanosomes in the peripheral actin network of melanocytes for subsequent transfer to keratinocytes. Mutations in any one member of this tripartite complex cause three forms of Griscelli syndrome (GS), each with distinct clinical features but with a similar cellular phenotype. To date, only one case of GS type III (GSIII), caused by mutations in the Melanophilin (MLPH) gene, has been reported. Here we report seven new cases of GSIII in three distinct Arab pedigrees. All affected individuals carried a homozygous missense mutation (c.102C>T; p.R35W), located in the conserved Slp homology domain (SHD) of MLPH, and had hypomelanosis of the skin and hair. We report the first cellular studies on GSIII melanocytes, which demonstrated that MLPH(R35W) causes perinuclear aggregation of melanosomes in melanocytes, typical for GS. Additionally, co-immunoprecipitation assays showed that MLPH(R35W) lost its interaction with RAB27A, indicating pathogenicity of the R35W mutation.
PMCID: PMC3265394  PMID: 21883982
Griscelli syndrome type III; Melanophilin; melanocyte; melanosome; Myosin-5a; RAB27A; tripartite complex
9.  Integrin α3 Mutations with Kidney, Lung, and Skin Disease 
The New England Journal of Medicine  2012;366(16):1508-1514.
Integrin α3 is a transmembrane integrin receptor subunit that mediates signals between the cells and their microenvironment. We identified three patients with homozygous mutations in the integrin α3 gene that were associated with disrupted basement-membrane structures and compromised barrier functions in kidney, lung, and skin. The patients had a multiorgan disorder that included congenital nephrotic syndrome, interstitial lung disease, and epidermolysis bullosa. The renal and respiratory features predominated, and the lung involvement accounted for the lethal course of the disease. Although skin fragility was mild, it provided clues to the diagnosis.
PMCID: PMC3341404  PMID: 22512483
10.  Identification, Tissue Distribution and Molecular Modeling of Novel Human Isoforms of the Key Enzyme in Sialic Acid Synthesis, UDP-GlcNAc 2-epimerase/ManNAc Kinase† 
Biochemistry  2011;50(41):8914-8925.
UDP-GlcNAc 2-epimerase/ManNAc kinase (GNE) catalyzes the first two committed steps in sialic acid synthesis. In addition to the previously described 3 human GNE isoforms (hGNE1- hGNE3), our database and PCR analysis yielded an additional 5 human isoforms (hGNE4- hGNE8). hGNE1 is the ubiquitously expressed major isoform, while the hGNE2-8 isoforms are differentially expressed and may act as tissue-specific regulators of sialylation. hGNE2 and hGNE7 display a 31-residue N-terminal extension compared to hGNE1. Based on similarities to kinases and helicases, this extension does not seem to hinder the epimerase enzymatic active site. hGNE3 and hGNE8 contain a 55 residue N-terminal deletion, and a 50-residue N-terminal extension compared to hGNE1. The size and secondary structures of these fragments are similar, and modeling predicted that these modifications do not affect the overall fold compared to hGNE1. However, epimerase enzymatic activity of GNE3 and GNE8 is likely absent, since the deleted fragment contains important substrate binding residues in homologous bacterial epimerases. hGNE5-hGNE8 have a 53-residue deletion, which was assigned a role in substrate (UDP-GlcNAc) binding. Deletion of this fragment likely eliminates epimerase enzymatic activity. Our findings imply that GNE is subject to evolutionary mechanisms to increase cellular functions, without increasing the number of genes. Our expression and modeling data contribute to elucidation of the complex functional and regulatory mechanisms of human GNE, and may contribute to further elucidating the pathology and treatment strategies of the human GNE-opathies sialuria and hereditary inclusion body myopathy.
PMCID: PMC3192532  PMID: 21910480
11.  Epilepsy, Ataxia, Sensorineural Deafness, Tubulopathy, and KCNJ10 Mutations 
The New England Journal of Medicine  2009;360(19):1960-1970.
Five children from two consanguineous families presented with epilepsy beginning in infancy and severe ataxia, moderate sensorineural deafness, and a renal salt-losing tubulopathy with normotensive hypokalemic metabolic alkalosis. We investigated the genetic basis of this autosomal recessive disease, which we call the EAST syndrome (the presence of epilepsy, ataxia, sensorineural deafness, and tubulopathy).
Whole-genome linkage analysis was performed in the four affected children in one of the families. Newly identified mutations in a potassium-channel gene were evaluated with the use of a heterologous expression system. Protein expression and function were further investigated in genetically modified mice.
Linkage analysis identified a single significant locus on chromosome 1q23.2 with a lod score of 4.98. This region contained the KCNJ10 gene, which encodes a potassium channel expressed in the brain, inner ear, and kidney. Sequencing of this candidate gene revealed homozygous missense mutations in affected persons in both families. These mutations, when expressed heterologously in xenopus oocytes, caused significant and specific decreases in potassium currents. Mice with Kcnj10 deletions became dehydrated, with definitive evidence of renal salt wasting.
Mutations in KCNJ10 cause a specific disorder, consisting of epilepsy, ataxia, sensorineural deafness, and tubulopathy. Our findings indicate that KCNJ10 plays a major role in renal salt handling and, hence, possibly also in blood-pressure maintenance and its regulation.
PMCID: PMC3398803  PMID: 19420365
12.  NBEAL2 is mutated in Gray Platelet Syndrome and is required for biogenesis of platelet alpha-granules 
Nature genetics  2011;43(8):732-734.
Gray Platelet Syndrome (GPS) is an autosomal recessive bleeding disorder with large platelets that lack α-granules. We found that mutations of NBEAL2 (neurobeachin-like 2), encoding a BEACH/ARM/WD40 domain protein, cause GPS. We demonstrated that human megakaryocytes and platelets express a unique combination of NBEAL2 transcripts. Proteomic analysis of sucrose-gradient subcellular fractions of platelets indicated that NBEAL2 localizes to the dense tubular system (endoplasmic reticulum) in platelets.
PMCID: PMC3154019  PMID: 21765412
Gray platelet syndrome; NBEAL2; neurobeachin; platelet α-granules; organelle biogenesis
13.  Ex Vivo Treatment with a Novel Synthetic Aminoglycoside NB54 in Primary Fibroblasts from Rett Syndrome Patients Suppresses MECP2 Nonsense Mutations 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(6):e20733.
Nonsense mutations in the X-linked methyl CpG-binding protein 2 (MECP2) comprise a significant proportion of causative MECP2 mutations in Rett syndrome (RTT). Naturally occurring aminoglycosides, such as gentamicin, have been shown to enable partial suppression of nonsense mutations related to several human genetic disorders, however, their clinical applicability has been compromised by parallel findings of severe toxic effects. Recently developed synthetic NB aminoglycosides have demonstrated significantly improved effects compared to gentamicin evident in substantially higher suppression and reduced acute toxicity in vitro.
We performed comparative study of suppression effects of the novel NB54 and gentamicin on three MECP2 nonsense mutations (R294X, R270X and R168X) common in RTT, using ex vivo treatment of primary fibroblasts from RTT patients harboring these mutations and testing for the C-terminal containing full-length MeCP2. We observed that NB54 induces dose-dependent suppression of MECP2 nonsense mutations more efficiently than gentamicin, which was evident at concentrations as low as 50 µg/ml. NB54 read-through activity was mutation specific, with maximal full-length MeCP2 recovery in R168X (38%), R270X (27%) and R294X (18%). In addition, the recovered MeCP2 was translocated to the cell nucleus and moreover led to parallel increase in one of the most important MeCP2 downstream effectors, the brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF).
Our findings suggest that NB54 may induce restoration of the potentially functional MeCP2 in primary RTT fibroblasts and encourage further studies of NB54 and other rationally designed aminoglycoside derivatives as potential therapeutic agents for nonsense MECP2 mutations in RTT.
PMCID: PMC3113846  PMID: 21695138
14.  OPA3, mutated in 3-methylglutaconic aciduria type III, encodes two transcripts targeted primarily to mitochondria 
Molecular genetics and metabolism  2010;100(2):149-154.
3-Methylglutaconicaciduria type III (3-MGCA type III), caused by recessive mutations in the 2-exon gene OPA3, is characterized by early-onset bilateral optic atrophy, later-onset extrapyramidal dysfunction, and increased urinary excretion of 3-methylglutaconic acid and 3-methylglutaric acid. Here we report the identification of a novel third OPA3 coding exon, the apparent product of a segmental duplication event, resulting in two gene transcripts, OPA3A and OPA3B. OPA3A deficiency (as in optic atrophy type 3) causes up-regulation of OPA3B. OPA3 protein function remains unknown, but it contains a putative mitochondrial leader sequence, mitochondrial sorting signal and a peroxisomal sorting signal. Our green fluorescent protein tagged OPA3 expression studies found its localization to be predominantly mitochondrial. These findings thus place the cellular metabolic defect of 3-MGCA type III in the mitochondrion rather than the peroxisome and implicate loss of OPA3A rather than gain of OPA3B in disease etiology.
PMCID: PMC2872056  PMID: 20350831
15.  Metabolic acetate therapy improves phenotype in the tremor rat model of Canavan disease 
Genetic mutations that severely diminish the activity of aspartoacylase (ASPA) result in the fatal brain dysmyelinating disorder, Canavan disease. There is no effective treatment. ASPA produces free acetate from the concentrated brain metabolite, N-acetylaspartate (NAA). Because acetyl coenzyme A is a key building block for lipid synthesis, we postulated that the inability to catabolize NAA leads to a brain acetate deficiency during a critical period of CNS development, impairing myelination and possibly other aspects of brain development. We tested the hypothesis that acetate supplementation during postnatal myelination would ameliorate the severe phenotype associated with ASPA deficiency using the tremor rat model of Canavan disease. Glyceryltriacetate (GTA) was administered orally to tremor rats starting 7 days after birth, and was continued in food and water after weaning. Motor function, myelin lipids, and brain vacuolation were analyzed in GTA-treated and untreated tremor rats. Significant improvements were observed in motor performance and myelin galactocerebroside content in tremor rats treated with GTA. Further, brain vacuolation was modestly reduced, and these reductions were positively correlated with improved motor performance. We also examined the expression of the acetyl coenzyme A synthesizing enzyme acetyl coenzyme A synthase 1 and found upregulation of expression in tremor rats, with a return to near normal expression levels in GTA-treated tremor rats. These results confirm the critical role played by NAA-derived acetate in brain myelination and development, and demonstrate the potential usefulness of acetate therapy for the treatment of Canavan disease.
PMCID: PMC2877317  PMID: 20464498

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