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1.  Megalencephalic leukoencephalopathy with subcortical cysts protein-1 modulates endosomal pH and protein trafficking in astrocytes: Relevance to MLC disease pathogenesis 
Neurobiology of Disease  2014;66(100):1-18.
Megalencephalic leukoencephalopathy with subcortical cysts (MLC) is a rare leukodystrophy caused by mutations in the gene encoding MLC1, a membrane protein mainly expressed in astrocytes in the central nervous system. Although MLC1 function is unknown, evidence is emerging that it may regulate ion fluxes. Using biochemical and proteomic approaches to identify MLC1 interactors and elucidate MLC1 function we found that MLC1 interacts with the vacuolar ATPase (V-ATPase), the proton pump that regulates endosomal acidity. Because we previously showed that in intracellular organelles MLC1 directly binds Na, K-ATPase, which controls endosomal pH, we studied MLC1 endosomal localization and trafficking and MLC1 effects on endosomal acidity and function using human astrocytoma cells overexpressing wild-type (WT) MLC1 or MLC1 carrying pathological mutations. We found that WT MLC1 is abundantly expressed in early (EEA1+, Rab5+) and recycling (Rab11+) endosomes and uses the latter compartment to traffic to the plasma membrane during hyposmotic stress. We also showed that WT MLC1 limits early endosomal acidification and influences protein trafficking in astrocytoma cells by stimulating protein recycling, as revealed by FITC-dextran measurement of endosomal pH and transferrin protein recycling assay, respectively. WT MLC1 also favors recycling to the plasma-membrane of the TRPV4 cation channel which cooperates with MLC1 to activate calcium influx in astrocytes during hyposmotic stress. Although MLC disease-causing mutations differentially affect MLC1 localization and trafficking, all the mutated proteins fail to influence endosomal pH and protein recycling. This study demonstrates that MLC1 modulates endosomal pH and protein trafficking suggesting that alteration of these processes contributes to MLC pathogenesis.
•We studied MLC1 intracellular expression and trafficking in astrocytes.•MLC1 traffics along early/late endosomes and is subjected to Rab11-mediated recycling.•MLC1 interacts with the V-ATPase and modulates early endosome organelle acidity.•MLC1 accelerates the recycling of transferrin and TRPV4 calcium channel.•Pathological mutations impair MLC1 regulation of organelle acidity and protein recycling.
PMCID: PMC4003525  PMID: 24561067
Leukodystrophy; Early/recycling endosomes; TRPV4; V-ATPase; Na; K-ATPase; Hyposmosis; Calcium; Rab11
2.  Recessive mutations in EPG5 cause Vici syndrome, a multisystem disorder with defective autophagy 
Nature genetics  2012;45(1):83-87.
Vici syndrome is a recessively inherited multisystem disorder characterized by callosal agenesis, cataracts, cardiomyopathy, combined immunodeficiency and hypopigmentation. To investigate the molecular basis of Vici syndrome, we carried out exome and Sanger sequence analysis in a cohort of 18 patients. We identified recessive mutations in EPG5 (previously KIAA1632), indicating a causative role in Vici syndrome. EPG5 is the human homologue of the metazoan-specific autophagy gene epg-5, encoding a key autophagy regulator (ectopic P-granules autophagy protein 5) implicated in the formation of autolysosomes. Further studies demonstrated a severe block of autophagosomal clearance in muscle and fibroblasts from EPG5 mutant patients, resulting in autophagic cargo accumulation in autophagosomes. These findings indicate Vici syndrome as a paradigm of a human multisystem disorder associated with defective autophagy, and suggest a fundamental role of the autophagy pathway in the anatomical and functional formation of organs such as the brain, the heart and the immune system.
PMCID: PMC4012842  PMID: 23222957
3.  Frataxin Silencing Inactivates Mitochondrial Complex I in NSC34 Motoneuronal Cells and Alters Glutathione Homeostasis 
Friedreich’s ataxia (FRDA) is a hereditary neurodegenerative disease characterized by a reduced synthesis of the mitochondrial iron chaperon protein frataxin as a result of a large GAA triplet-repeat expansion within the first intron of the frataxin gene. Despite neurodegeneration being the prominent feature of this pathology involving both the central and the peripheral nervous system, information on the impact of frataxin deficiency in neurons is scant. Here, we describe a neuronal model displaying some major biochemical and morphological features of FRDA. By silencing the mouse NSC34 motor neurons for the frataxin gene with shRNA lentiviral vectors, we generated two cell lines with 40% and 70% residual amounts of frataxin, respectively. Frataxin-deficient cells showed a specific inhibition of mitochondrial Complex I (CI) activity already at 70% residual frataxin levels, whereas the glutathione imbalance progressively increased after silencing. These biochemical defects were associated with the inhibition of cell proliferation and morphological changes at the axonal compartment, both depending on the frataxin amount. Interestingly, at 70% residual frataxin levels, the in vivo treatment with the reduced glutathione revealed a partial rescue of cell proliferation. Thus, NSC34 frataxin silenced cells could be a suitable model to study the effect of frataxin deficiency in neurons and highlight glutathione as a potential beneficial therapeutic target for FRDA.
PMCID: PMC4013596  PMID: 24714088
Friedreich’s ataxia; neurodegeneration; glutathione; oxidative stress; mitochondrial enzymes
4.  Oligophrenin-1 (OPHN1), a Gene Involved in X-Linked Intellectual Disability, Undergoes RNA Editing and Alternative Splicing during Human Brain Development 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(3):e91351.
Oligophrenin-1 (OPHN1) encodes for a Rho-GTPase-activating protein, important for dendritic morphogenesis and synaptic function. Mutations in this gene have been identified in patients with X-linked intellectual disability associated with cerebellar hypoplasia. ADAR enzymes are responsible for A-to-I RNA editing, an essential post-transcriptional RNA modification contributing to transcriptome and proteome diversification. Specifically, ADAR2 activity is essential for brain development and function. Herein, we show that the OPHN1 transcript undergoes post-transcriptional modifications such as A-to-I RNA editing and alternative splicing in human brain and other tissues. We found that OPHN1 editing is detectable already at the 18th week of gestation in human brain with a boost of editing at weeks 20 to 33, concomitantly with OPHN1 expression increase and the appearance of a novel OPHN1 splicing isoform. Our results demonstrate that multiple post-transcriptional events occur on OPHN1, a gene playing an important role in brain function and development.
PMCID: PMC3956665  PMID: 24637888
5.  6 Minute Walk Test in Duchenne MD Patients with Different Mutations: 12 Month Changes 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(1):e83400.
In the last few years some of the therapeutical approaches for Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) are specifically targeting distinct groups of mutations, such as deletions eligible for skipping of individual exons. The aim of this observational study was to establish whether patients with distinct groups of mutations have different profiles of changes on the 6 minute walk test (6MWT) over a 12 month period.
The 6MWT was performed in 191 ambulant DMD boys at baseline and 12 months later. The results were analysed using a test for heterogeneity in order to establish possible differences among different types of mutations (deletions, duplications, point mutations) and among subgroups of deletions eligible to skip individual exons.
At baseline the 6MWD ranged between 180 and 560,80 metres (mean 378,06, SD 74,13). The 12 month changes ranged between −325 and 175 (mean −10.8 meters, SD 69.2). Although boys with duplications had better results than those with the other types of mutations, the difference was not significant.
Similarly, boys eligible for skipping of the exon 44 had better baseline results and less drastic changes than those eligible for skipping exon 45 or 53, but the difference was not significant.
even if there are some differences among subgroups, the mean 12 month changes in each subgroup were all within a narrow Range: from the mean of the whole DMD cohort. This information will be of help at the time of designing clinical trials with small numbers of eligible patients.
PMCID: PMC3885414  PMID: 24421885
Translational neuroscience  2013;4(2):10.2478/s13380-013-0118-1.
Astrocytes are the predominant glial cell population in the central nervous system (CNS). Once considered only passive scaffolding elements, astrocytes are now recognised as cells playing essential roles in CNS development and function. They control extracellular water and ion homeostasis, provide substrates for energy metabolism, and regulate neurogenesis, myelination and synaptic transmission. Due to these multiple activities astrocytes have been implicated in almost all brain pathologies, contributing to various aspects of disease initiation, progression and resolution. Evidence is emerging that astrocyte dysfunction can be the direct cause of neurodegeneration, as shown in Alexander’s disease where myelin degeneration is caused by mutations in the gene encoding the astrocyte-specific cytoskeleton protein glial fibrillary acidic protein. Recent studies point to a primary role for astrocytes in the pathogenesis of other genetic leukodystrophies such as megalencephalic leukoencephalopathy with subcortical cysts and vanishing white matter disease. The aim of this review is to summarize current knowledge of the pathophysiological role of astrocytes focusing on their contribution to the development of the above mentioned leukodystrophies and on new perspectives for the treatment of neurological disorders.
PMCID: PMC3856885  PMID: 24340223
Leukodystrophies; Glial cells; Myelin; Ion homeostasis; CNS diseases; Alexander’s disease; Megalencephalic leukoencephalopathy with subcortical cysts (MLC); Vanishing white matter disease
7.  Cardiomyopathy in patients with POMT1-related congenital and limb-girdle muscular dystrophy 
European Journal of Human Genetics  2012;20(12):1234-1239.
Protein-o-mannosyl transferase 1 (POMT1) is a glycosyltransferase involved in α-dystroglycan (α-DG) glycosylation. Clinical phenotype in POMT1-mutated patients ranges from congenital muscular dystrophy (CMD) with structural brain abnormalities, to limb-girdle muscular dystrophy (LGMD) with microcephaly and mental retardation, to mild LGMD. No cardiac involvement has until now been reported in POMT1-mutated patients. We report three patients who harbored compound heterozygous POMT1 mutations and showed left ventricular (LV) dilation and/or decrease in myocardial contractile force: two had a LGMD phenotype with a normal or close-to-normal cognitive profile and one had CMD with mental retardation and normal brain MRI. Reduced or absent α-DG immunolabeling in muscle biopsies were identified in all three patients. Bioinformatic tools were used to study the potential effect of POMT1-detected mutations. All the detected POMT1 mutations were predicted in silico to interfere with protein folding and/or glycosyltransferase function. The report on the patients described here has widened the clinical spectrum associated with POMT1 mutations to include cardiomyopathy. The functional impact of known and novel POMT1 mutations was predicted with a bioinformatics approach, and results were compared with previous in vitro studies of protein-o-mannosylase function.
PMCID: PMC3499746  PMID: 22549409
POMT1; LGMD; CMD; cardiomyopathy; α-dystroglycan glycosylation
9.  Glutathione imbalance in patients with X-linked adrenoleukodystrophy☆ 
Molecular Genetics and Metabolism  2013;109(4):366-370.
X-linked adrenoleukodystrophy (X-ALD) is a genetic disorder of X-linked inheritance caused by a mutation in the ABCD1 gene which determines an accumulation of long-chain fatty acids in plasma and tissues. Recent evidence shows that oxidative stress may be a hallmark in the pathogenesis of X-ALD and glutathione plays an important role in the defense against free radicals. In this study we have analyzed glutathione homeostasis in lymphocytes of 14 patients with X-ALD and evaluated the balance between oxidized and reduced forms of glutathione, in order to define the role of this crucial redox marker in this condition.
Lymphocytes, plasma and erythrocytes were obtained from the whole blood of 14 subjects with X-ALD and in 30 healthy subjects. Total, reduced and protein-bound glutathione levels were measured in lymphocytes by HPLC analysis. Erythrocyte free glutathione and antioxidant enzyme activities, plasma thiols and carbonyl content were determined by spectrophotometric assays.
A significant decrease of total and reduced glutathione was found in lymphocytes of patients, associated to high levels of all oxidized glutathione forms. A decline of free glutathione was particularly significant in erythrocytes. The increased oxidative stress in X-ALD was additionally confirmed by the decrease of plasma thiols and the high level of carbonyls.
Our results strongly support a role for oxidative stress in the pathophysiology of X-ALD and strengthen the importance of the balance among glutathione forms as a hallmark and a potential biomarker of the disease.
•All glutathione forms are abnormal in blood of X-ALD patients.•Abnormal oxidative stress in X-ALD is confirmed by decrease of thiols in plasma.•Abnormal oxidative stress in X-ALD is confirmed by increased carbonyls in plasma.•Glutathione may be considered a redox hallmark/potential biomarker in X-ALD.
PMCID: PMC3732387  PMID: 23768953
Glutathione; X-linked adrenoleukodystrophy (X-ALD); Oxidative stress; Redox markers
10.  Importance of SPP1 genotype as a covariate in clinical trials in Duchenne muscular dystrophy 
Neurology  2012;79(2):159-162.
To test the effect of the single nucleotide polymorphism −66 T>G (rs28357094) in the osteopontin gene (SPP1) on functional measures over 12 months in Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD).
This study was conducted on a cohort of ambulatory patients with DMD from a network of Italian neuromuscular centers, evaluated longitudinally with the North Star Ambulatory Assessment (NSAA) and the 6-Minute Walk Test (6MWT) at study entry and after 12 months. Genotype at rs28357094 was determined after completion of the clinical evaluations. Patients were stratified in 2 groups according to a dominant model (TT homozygotes vs TG heterozygotes and GG homozygotes) and clinical data were retrospectively compared between groups.
Eighty patients were selected (age 4.1–19.3 years; mean 8.3 ± 2.7 SD). There were no differences in age or steroid treatment between the 2 subgroups. Paired t test showed a significant difference in both NSAA (p = 0.013) and 6MWT (p = 0.03) between baseline and follow-up after 12 months in patients with DMD carrying the G allele. The difference was not significant in the T subgroup. The analysis of covariance using age and baseline values as covariate and SPP1 genotype as fixed effect showed that these parameters are significantly correlated with the 12-month values.
These data provide evidence of the role of SPP1 genotype as a disease modifier in DMD and support its relevance in the selection of homogeneous groups of patients for future clinical trials.
PMCID: PMC3390537  PMID: 22744661
11.  Characterization of a rare case of Ullrich congenital muscular dystrophy due to truncating mutations within the COL6A1 gene C-Terminal domain: a case report 
BMC Medical Genetics  2013;14:59.
Mutations within the C-terminal region of the COL6A1 gene are only detected in Ullrich/Bethlem patients on extremely rare occasions.
Case presentation
Herein we report two Brazilian brothers with a classic Ullrich phenotype and compound heterozygous for two truncating mutations in COL6A1 gene, expected to result in the loss of the α1(VI) chain C2 subdomain. Despite the reduction in COL6A1 RNA level due to nonsense RNA decay, three truncated alpha1 (VI) chains were produced as protein variants encoded by different out-of-frame transcripts. Collagen VI matrix was severely decreased and intracellular protein retention evident.
The altered deposition of the fibronectin network highlighted abnormal interactions of the mutated collagen VI, lacking the α1(VI) C2 domain, within the extracellular matrix, focusing further studies on the possible role played by collagen VI in fibronectin deposition and organization.
PMCID: PMC3681647  PMID: 23738969
Ullrich congenital dystrophy; Collagen VI; C-terminal truncating mutations
12.  Mutation Spectrum in the Large GTPase Dynamin 2, and Genotype–Phenotype Correlation in Autosomal Dominant Centronuclear Myopathy 
Human mutation  2012;33(6):949-959.
Centronuclear myopathy (CNM) is a genetically heterogeneous disorder associated with general skeletal muscle weakness, type I fiber predominance and atrophy, and abnormally centralized nuclei. Autosomal dominant CNM is due to mutations in the large GTPase dynamin 2 (DNM2), a mechanochemical enzyme regulating cytoskeleton and membrane trafficking in cells. To date, 40 families with CNM-related DNM2 mutations have been described, and here we report 60 additional families encompassing a broad genotypic and phenotypic spectrum. In total, 18 different mutations are reported in 100 families and our cohort harbors nine known and four new mutations, including the first splice-site mutation. Genotype–phenotype correlation hypotheses are drawn from the published and new data, and allow an efficient screening strategy for molecular diagnosis. In addition to CNM, dissimilar DNM2 mutations are associated with Charcot–Marie–Tooth (CMT) peripheral neuropathy (CMTD1B and CMT2M), suggesting a tissue-specific impact of the mutations. In this study, we discuss the possible clinical overlap of CNM and CMT, and the biological significance of the respective mutations based on the known functions of dynamin 2 and its protein structure. Defects in membrane trafficking due to DNM2 mutations potentially represent a common pathological mechanism in CNM and CMT.
PMCID: PMC3374402  PMID: 22396310
centronuclear myopathy; congenital myopathy; Charcot–Marie–Tooth neuropathy; DNM2; ADCNM; CMTD1B; DI-CMTB; CMT2M; hereditary motor and sensory neuropathy type II; HMSNII; MTM1; myotubular myopathy; BIN1; RYR1; endocytosis
13.  Dandy-Walker malformation and Wisconsin syndrome: novel cases add further insight into the genotype-phenotype correlations of 3q23q25 deletions 
The Dandy-Walker malformation (DWM) is one of the commonest congenital cerebellar defects, and can be associated with multiple congenital anomalies and chromosomal syndromes. The occurrence of overlapping 3q deletions including the ZIC1 and ZIC4 genes in few patients, along with data from mouse models, have implicated both genes in the pathogenesis of DWM.
Methods and results
Using a SNP-array approach, we recently identified three novel patients carrying heterozygous 3q deletions encompassing ZIC1 and ZIC4. Magnetic resonance imaging showed that only two had a typical DWM, while the third did not present any defect of the DWM spectrum. SNP-array analysis in further eleven children diagnosed with DWM failed to identify deletions of ZIC1-ZIC4. The clinical phenotype of the three 3q deleted patients included multiple congenital anomalies and peculiar facial appearance, related to the localization and extension of each deletion. In particular, phenotypes resulted from the variable combination of three recognizable patterns: DWM (with incomplete penetrance); blepharophimosis, ptosis, and epicanthus inversus syndrome; and Wisconsin syndrome (WS), recently mapped to 3q.
Our data indicate that the 3q deletion is a rare defect associated with DWM, and suggest that the hemizygosity of ZIC1-ZIC4 genes is neither necessary nor sufficient per se to cause this condition. Furthermore, based on a detailed comparison of clinical features and molecular data from 3q deleted patients, we propose clinical diagnostic criteria and refine the critical region for WS.
PMCID: PMC3667004  PMID: 23679990
Dandy-Walker malformation; Wisconsin syndrome; 3q deletion; ZIC1-ZIC4 genes
14.  Frataxin Deficiency Leads to Reduced Expression and Impaired Translocation of NF-E2-Related Factor (Nrf2) in Cultured Motor Neurons 
Oxidative stress has been implicated in the pathogenesis of Friedreich’s Ataxia (FRDA), a neurodegenerative disease caused by the decreased expression of frataxin, a mitochondrial protein responsible of iron homeostasis. Under conditions of oxidative stress, the activation of the transcription factor NF-E2-related factor (Nrf2) triggers the antioxidant cellular response by inducing antioxidant response element (ARE) driven genes. Increasing evidence supports a role for the Nrf2-ARE pathway in neurodegenerative diseases. In this study, we analyzed the expression and the distribution of Nrf2 in silenced neurons for frataxin gene. Decreased Nrf2 mRNA content and a defective activation after treatment with pro-oxidants have been evidenced in frataxin-silenced neurons by RT-PCR and confocal microscopy. The loss of Nrf2 in FRDA may greatly enhance the cellular susceptibility to oxidative stress and make FRDA neurons more vulnerable to injury. Our findings may help to focus on this promising target, especially in its emerging role in the neuroprotective response.
PMCID: PMC3645720  PMID: 23574943
FRDA; frataxin; Nrf2; GSSG; oxidative stress; NSC34 neurons
15.  Metabolic consequences of mitochondrial coenzyme A deficiency in patients with PANK2 mutations 
Molecular genetics and metabolism  2011;105(3):463-471.
Pantothenate kinase-associated neurodegeneration (PKAN) is a rare, inborn error of metabolism characterized by iron accumulation in the basal ganglia and by the presence of dystonia, dysarthria, and retinal degeneration. Mutations in pantothenate kinase 2 (PANK2), the rate-limiting enzyme in mitochondrial coenzyme A biosynthesis, represent the most common genetic cause of this disorder. How mutations in this core metabolic enzyme give rise to such a broad clinical spectrum of pathology remains a mystery. To systematically explore its pathogenesis, we performed global metabolic profiling on plasma from a cohort of 14 genetically defined patients and 18 controls. Notably, lactate is elevated in PKAN patients, suggesting dysfunctional mitochondrial metabolism. As predicted, but never previously reported, pantothenate levels are higher in patients with premature stop mutations in PANK2. Global metabolic profiling and follow-up studies in patient-derived fibroblasts also reveal defects in bile acid conjugation and lipid metabolism, pathways that require coenzyme A. These findings raise a novel therapeutic hypothesis, namely, that dietary fats and bile acid supplements may hold potential as disease-modifying interventions. Our study illustrates the value of metabolic profiling as a tool for systematically exploring the biochemical basis of inherited metabolic diseases.
PMCID: PMC3487396  PMID: 22221393
PKAN; coenzyme A; mitochondria; mass spectrometry; cholesterol
16.  Centronuclear myopathy related to dynamin 2 mutations: Clinical, morphological, muscle imaging and genetic features of an Italian cohort 
Neuromuscular Disorders  2013;23(3):229-238.
Mutations in dynamin 2 (DNM2) gene cause autosomal dominant centronuclear myopathy and occur in around 50% of patients with centronuclear myopathy. We report clinical, morphological, muscle imaging and genetic data of 10 unrelated Italian patients with centronuclear myopathy related to DNM2 mutations. Our results confirm the clinical heterogeneity of this disease, underlining some peculiar clinical features, such as severe pulmonary impairment and jaw contracture that should be considered in the clinical follow-up of these patients. Muscle MRI showed a distinct pattern of involvement, with predominant involvement of soleus and tibialis anterior in the lower leg muscles, followed by hamstring muscles and adductor magnus at thigh level and gluteus maximus. The detection of three novel DNM2 mutations and the first case of somatic mosaicism further expand the genetic spectrum of the disease.
PMCID: PMC3594745  PMID: 23394783
DNM2; Centronuclear myopathy; Muscle MRI; ‘Necklace’ fibers; Somatic mosaicism
17.  New clinical and molecular insights on Barth syndrome 
Barth syndrome (BS) is an X-linked infantile-onset cardioskeletal disease characterized by cardiomyopathy, hypotonia, growth delay, neutropenia and 3-methylglutaconic aciduria. It is caused by mutations in the TAZ gene encoding tafazzin, a protein involved in the metabolism of cardiolipin, a mitochondrial-specific phospholipid involved in mitochondrial energy production.
Clinical, biochemical and molecular characterization of a group of six male patients suspected of having BS. Three patients presented early with severe metabolic decompensation including respiratory distress, oxygen desaturation and cardiomyopathy and died within the first year of life. The remaining three patients had cardiomyopathy, hypotonia and growth delay and are still alive. Cardiomyopathy was detected during pregnancy through a routine check-up in one patient. All patients exhibited 3-methylglutaconic aciduria and neutropenia, when tested and five of them also had lactic acidosis.
We confirmed the diagnosis of BS with sequence analysis of the TAZ gene, and found five new mutations, c.641A>G p.His214Arg, c.284dupG (p.Thr96Aspfs*37), c.678_691del14 (p.Tyr227Trpfs*79), g.8009_16445del8437 and g.[9777_9814del38; 9911-?_14402del] and the known nonsense mutation c.367C>T (p.Arg123Term). The two gross rearrangements ablated TAZ exons 6 to 11 and probably originated by non-allelic homologous recombination and by Serial Replication Slippage (SRS), respectively. The identification of the breakpoints boundaries of the gross deletions allowed the direct detection of heterozygosity in carrier females.
Lactic acidosis associated with 3-methylglutaconic aciduria is highly suggestive of BS, whilst the severity of the metabolic decompensation at disease onset should be considered for prognostic purposes. Mutation analysis of the TAZ gene is necessary for confirming the clinical and biochemical diagnosis in probands in order to identify heterozygous carriers and supporting prenatal diagnosis and genetic counseling.
PMCID: PMC3599367  PMID: 23409742
Barth syndrome; TAZ gene mutation; In utero cardiomyopathy; Metabolic decompensation; Lactic acidosis; 3-methylglutaconic aciduria; Gross deletions; Metabolic cardiomyopathy
18.  Molecular epidemiology of childhood neuronal ceroid-lipofuscinosis in Italy 
To review the descriptive epidemiological data on neuronal ceroid lipofuscinoses (NCLs) in Italy, identify the spectrum of mutations in the causative genes, and analyze possible genotype-phenotype relations.
A cohort of NCL patients was recruited through CLNet, a nationwide network of child neurology units. Diagnosis was based on clinical and pathological criteria following ultrastructural investigation of peripheral tissues. Molecular confirmation was obtained during the diagnostic procedure or, when possible, retrospectively.
One hundred eighty-three NCL patients from 156 families were recruited between 1966 and 2010; 124 of these patients (from 88 families) were tested for known NCL genes, with 9.7% of the patients in this sample having not a genetic diagnosis. Late infantile onset NCL (LINCL) accounted for 75.8% of molecularly confirmed cases, the most frequent form being secondary to mutations in CLN2 (23.5%). Juvenile onset NCL patients accounted for 17.7% of this cohort, a smaller proportion than found in other European countries. Gene mutations predicted severe protein alterations in 65.5% of the CLN2 and 78.6% of the CLN7 cases. An incidence rate of 0.98/100,000 live births was found in 69 NCL patients born between 1992 and 2004, predicting 5 new cases a year. Prevalence was 1.2/1,000,000.
Descriptive epidemiology data indicate a lower incidence of NCLs in Italy as compared to other European countries. A relatively high number of private mutations affecting all NCL genes might explain the genetic heterogeneity. Specific gene mutations were associated with severe clinical courses in selected NCL forms only.
PMCID: PMC3570295  PMID: 23374165
Childhood NCL; NCL Genes; Epidemiology; Italy
19.  24 Month Longitudinal Data in Ambulant Boys with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(1):e52512.
The aim of the study was i) to assess the spectrum of changes over 24 months in ambulant boys affected by Duchenne muscular dystrophy, ii) to establish the difference between the first and the second year results and iii) to identify possible early markers of loss of ambulation.
One hundred and thirteen patients (age range 4.1–17, mean 8.2) fulfilled the inclusion criteria, 67 of the 113 were on daily and 40 on intermittent steroids, while 6 were not on steroids. All were assessed using the 6 Minute Walk Test (6MWT), the North Star Ambulatory Assessment (NSAA) and timed test.
On the 6MWT there was an average overall decline of −22.7 (SD 81.0) in the first year and of −64.7 (SD 123.1) in the second year. On the NSAA the average overall decline was of −1.86 (SD 4.21) in the first year and of −2.98 (SD 5.19) in the second year. Fourteen children lost ambulation, one in the first year and the other 13 in the second year of the study. A distance of at least 330 meters on the 6MWT, or a NSAA score of 18 at baseline reduced significantly the risk of losing ambulation within 2 years.
These results can be of help at the time of using inclusion criteria for a study in ambulant patients in order to minimize the risk of patients who may lose ambulation within the time of the trial.
PMCID: PMC3543414  PMID: 23326337
20.  Genetic characterization in symptomatic female DMD carriers: lack of relationship between X-inactivation, transcriptional DMD allele balancing and phenotype 
BMC Medical Genetics  2012;13:73.
Although Duchenne and Becker muscular dystrophies, X-linked recessive myopathies, predominantly affect males, a clinically significant proportion of females manifesting symptoms have also been reported. They represent an heterogeneous group characterized by variable degrees of muscle weakness and/or cardiac involvement. Though preferential inactivation of the normal X chromosome has long been considered the principal mechanism behind disease manifestation in these females, supporting evidence is controversial.
Eighteen females showing a mosaic pattern of dystrophin expression on muscle biopsy were recruited and classified as symptomatic (7) or asymptomatic (11), based on the presence or absence of muscle weakness. The causative DMD gene mutations were identified in all cases, and the X-inactivation pattern was assessed in muscle DNA. Transcriptional analysis in muscles was performed in all females, and relative quantification of wild-type and mutated transcripts was also performed in 9 carriers. Dystrophin protein was quantified by immunoblotting in 2 females.
The study highlighted a lack of relationship between dystrophic phenotype and X-inactivation pattern in females; skewed X-inactivation was found in 2 out of 6 symptomatic carriers and in 5 out of 11 asymptomatic carriers. All females were characterized by biallelic transcription, but no association was found between X-inactivation pattern and allele transcriptional balancing. Either a prevalence of wild-type transcript or equal proportions of wild-type and mutated RNAs was observed in both symptomatic and asymptomatic females. Moreover, very similar levels of total and wild-type transcripts were identified in the two groups of carriers.
This is the first study deeply exploring the DMD transcriptional behaviour in a cohort of female carriers. Notably, no relationship between X-inactivation pattern and transcriptional behaviour of DMD gene was observed, suggesting that the two mechanisms are regulated independently. Moreover, neither the total DMD transcript level, nor the relative proportion of the wild-type transcript do correlate with the symptomatic phenotype.
PMCID: PMC3459813  PMID: 22894145
Dystrophinopathy; Female carriers; X-inactivation; Transcriptional balancing
21.  Developmental Splicing Deregulation in Leukodystrophies Related to EIF2B Mutations 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(6):e38264.
Leukodystrophies (LD) are rare inherited disorders that primarily affect the white matter (WM) of the central nervous system. The large heterogeneity of LD results from the diversity of the genetically determined defects that interfere with glial cells functions. Astrocytes have been identified as the primary target of LD with cystic myelin breakdown including those related to mutations in the ubiquitous translation initiation factor eIF2B. EIF2B is involved in global protein synthesis and its regulation under normal and stress conditions. Little is known about how eIF2B mutations have a major effect on WM. We performed a transcriptomic analysis using fibroblasts of 10 eIF2B-mutated patients with a severe phenotype and 10 age matched patients with other types of LD in comparison to control fibroblasts. ANOVA was used to identify genes that were statistically significantly differentially expressed at basal state and after ER-stress. The pattern of differentially expressed genes between basal state and ER-stress did not differ significantly among each of the three conditions. However, 70 genes were specifically differentially expressed in eIF2B-mutated fibroblasts whatever the stress conditions tested compared to controls, 96% being under-expressed. Most of these genes were involved in mRNA regulation and mitochondrial metabolism. The 13 most representative genes, including genes belonging to the Heterogeneous Nuclear Ribonucleoprotein (HNRNP) family, described as regulators of splicing events and stability of mRNA, were dysregulated during the development of eIF2B-mutated brains. HNRNPH1, F and C mRNA were over-expressed in foetus but under-expressed in children and adult brains. The abnormal regulation of HNRNP expression in the brain of eIF2B-mutated patients was concomitant with splicing dysregulation of the main genes involved in glial maturation such as PLP1 for oligodendrocytes and GFAP in astrocytes. These findings demonstrate a developmental deregulation of splicing events in glial cells that is related to abnormal production of HNRNP, in eIF2B-mutated brains.
PMCID: PMC3380860  PMID: 22737209
22.  The empowerment of translational research: lessons from laminopathies 
The need for a collaborative approach to complex inherited diseases collectively referred to as laminopathies, encouraged Italian researchers, geneticists, physicians and patients to join in the Italian Network for Laminopathies, in 2009. Here, we highlight the advantages and added value of such a multidisciplinary effort to understand pathogenesis, clinical aspects and try to find a cure for Emery-Dreifuss muscular dystrophy, Mandibuloacral dysplasia, Hutchinson-Gilford Progeria and forms of lamin-linked cardiomyopathy, neuropathy and lipodystrophy.
PMCID: PMC3458975  PMID: 22691392
Laminopathies; Emery-Dreifuss Muscular Dystrophy; Dilated Cardiomyopathy with Conduction Defects; Mandibuloacral Dysplasia; Familial Partial Lipodystrophy Type 2; Hutchinson-Gilford Progeria Syndrome; Rare Diseases; Networking activity; interdisciplinary approach to diseases
23.  HiTSEE KNIME: a visualization tool for hit selection and analysis in high-throughput screening experiments for the KNIME platform 
BMC Bioinformatics  2012;13(Suppl 8):S4.
We present HiTSEE (High-Throughput Screening Exploration Environment), a visualization tool for the analysis of large chemical screens used to examine biochemical processes. The tool supports the investigation of structure-activity relationships (SAR analysis) and, through a flexible interaction mechanism, the navigation of large chemical spaces. Our approach is based on the projection of one or a few molecules of interest and the expansion around their neighborhood and allows for the exploration of large chemical libraries without the need to create an all encompassing overview of the whole library. We describe the requirements we collected during our collaboration with biologists and chemists, the design rationale behind the tool, and two case studies on different datasets. The described integration (HiTSEE KNIME) into the KNIME platform allows additional flexibility in adopting our approach to a wide range of different biochemical problems and enables other research groups to use HiTSEE.
PMCID: PMC3355333  PMID: 22607449
24.  The use of muscle biopsy in the diagnosis of undefined ataxia with cerebellar atrophy in children 
Childhood cerebellar ataxias, and particularly congenital ataxias, are heterogeneous disorders and several remain undefined. We performed a muscle biopsy in patients with congenital ataxia and children with later onset undefined ataxia having neuroimaging evidence of cerebellar atrophy. Significant reduced levels of Coenzyme Q10 (COQ10) were found in the skeletal muscle of 9 out of 34 patients that were consecutively screened. A mutation in the ADCK3/Coq8 gene (R347X) was identified in a female patient with ataxia, seizures and markedly reduced COQ10 levels. In a 2.5-years-old male patient with non syndromic congenital ataxia and autophagic vacuoles in the muscle biopsy we identified a homozygous nonsense mutation R111X mutation in SIL1 gene, leading to early diagnosis of Marinesco-Sjogren syndrome. We think that muscle biopsy is a valuable procedure to improve diagnostic assesement in children with congenital ataxia or other undefined forms of later onset childhood ataxia associated to cerebellar atrophy at MRI.
PMCID: PMC3341568  PMID: 21873089
Inherited cerebellar ataxias; Marinesco-Sjogren syndrome; Coenzyme Q10 deficiency
25.  Spectrum of pontocerebellar hypoplasia in 13 girls and boys with CASK mutations: confirmation of a recognizable phenotype and first description of a male mosaic patient 
Pontocerebellar hypoplasia (PCH) is a heterogeneous group of diseases characterized by lack of development and/or early neurodegeneration of cerebellum and brainstem. According to clinical features, seven subtypes of PCH have been described, PCH type 2 related to TSEN54 mutations being the most frequent. PCH is most often autosomal recessive though de novo anomalies in the X-linked gene CASK have recently been identified in patients, mostly females, presenting with intellectual disability, microcephaly and PCH (MICPCH).
Fourteen patients (12 females and two males; aged 16 months-14 years) presenting with PCH at neuroimaging and with clinical characteristics unsuggestive of PCH1 or PCH2 were included. The CASK gene screening was performed using Array-CGH and sequencing. Clinical and neuroradiological features were collected.
We observed a high frequency of patients with a CASK mutation (13/14). Ten patients (8 girls and 2 boys) had intragenic mutations and three female patients had a Xp11.4 submicroscopic deletion including the CASK gene. All were de novo mutations. Phenotype was variable in severity but highly similar among the 11 girls and was characterized by psychomotor retardation, severe intellectual disability, progressive microcephaly, dystonia, mild dysmorphism, and scoliosis. Other signs were frequently associated, such as growth retardation, ophthalmologic anomalies (glaucoma, megalocornea and optic atrophy), deafness and epilepsy. As expected in an X-linked disease manifesting mainly in females, the boy hemizygous for a splice mutation had a very severe phenotype with nearly no development and refractory epilepsy. We described a mild phenotype in a boy with a mosaic truncating mutation. We found some degree of correlation between severity of the vermis hypoplasia and clinical phenotype.
This study describes a new series of PCH female patients with CASK inactivating mutations and confirms that these patients have a recognizable although variable phenotype consisting of a specific form of pontocerebellar hypoplasia. In addition, we report the second male patient to present with a severe MICPCH phenotype and a de novo CASK mutation and describe for the first time a mildly affected male patient harboring a mosaic mutation. In our reference centre, CASK related PCH is the second most frequent cause of PCH. The identification of a de novo mutation in these patients enables accurate and reassuring genetic counselling.
PMCID: PMC3351739  PMID: 22452838
Pontocerebellar hypoplasia; Microcephaly; CASK gene; Mosaicism; Array-CGH

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