Individual studies of the genetics of neural tube defects (NTDs) contain results on a small number of genes in each report. To identify genetic risk factors for NTDs, we evaluated potentially functional single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) that are biologically plausible risk factors for NTDs but that have never been investigated for an association with NTDs, examined SNPs that previously showed no association with NTDs in published studies, and tried to confirm previously reported associations in folate-related and non-folate-related genes. We investigated 64 SNPs in 34 genes for association with spina bifida in up to 558 case-families (520 cases, 507 mothers, 457 fathers) and 994 controls in Ireland. Case-control and mother-control comparisons of genotype frequencies, tests of transmission disequilibrium, and log-linear regression models were used to calculate effect estimates. Spina bifida was associated with over-transmission of the LEPR (leptin receptor) rs1805134 minor C allele (genotype relative risk (GRR): 1.5; 95% confidence interval (CI): 1.0, 2.1; P = 0.0264) and the COMT (catechol-O-methyltransferase) rs737865 major T allele (GRR: 1.4; 95% CI: 1.1, 2.0; P = 0.0206). After correcting for multiple comparisons, these individual test P-values exceeded 0.05. Consistent with previous reports, spina bifida was associated with MTHFR 677C>T, T (Brachyury) rs3127334, LEPR K109R, and PDGFRA promoter haplotype combinations. The associations between LEPR SNPs and spina bifida suggest a possible mechanism for the finding that obesity is a NTD risk factor. The association between a variant in COMT and spina bifida implicates methylation and epigenetics in NTDs.
congenital abnormalities; folic acid; neural tube defects; single nucleotide polymorphism; spina bifida
Suggestive, but not conclusive, studies implicate many genetic variants in oral cleft etiology. We used a large, ethnically homogenous study population to test whether reported associations between nonsyndromic oral clefts and 12 genes (CLPTM1, CRISPLD2, FGFR2, GABRB3, GLI2, IRF6, PTCH1, RARA, RYK, SATB2, SUMO1, TGFA) could be confirmed.
Thirty-one single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in exons, splice sites, and conserved non-coding regions were studied in 509 patients with cleft lip with or without cleft palate (CLP), 383 with cleft palate only (CP), 838 mothers and 719 fathers of patients with oral clefts, and 902 controls from Ireland. Case-control and family-based statistical tests were performed using isolated oral clefts for the main analyses.
In case-control comparisons, the minor allele of PTCH1 A562A (rs2066836) was associated with reduced odds of CLP (OR: 0.29, 95% CI: 0.13–0.64 for homozygotes) whereas the minor allele of PTCH1 L1315P (rs357564) was associated with increased odds of CLP (OR: 1.36, 95% CI: 1.07–1.74 for heterozygotes and OR: 1.56, 95% CI: 1.09–2.24 for homozygotes). The minor allele of one SUMO1 SNP, rs3769817 located in intron 2, was associated with increased odds of CP (OR: 1.45, 95% CI: 1.06–1.99 for heterozygotes). Transmission disequilibrium was observed for the minor allele of TGFA V159V (rs2166975) which was over-transmitted to CP cases (P=0.041).
For 10 of the 12 genes, this is the largest candidate gene study of nonsyndromic oral clefts to date. The findings provide further evidence that PTCH1, SUMO1, and TGFA contribute to nonsyndromic oral clefts.
cleft lip; cleft palate; congenital abnormalities
A patient with a homozygous premature stop codon in PIK3R1 showed an early developmental block in B cell development but minimal effects in other organ systems.
Whole exome sequencing was used to determine the causative gene in patients with B cell defects of unknown etiology. A homozygous premature stop codon in exon 6 of PIK3R1 was identified in a young woman with colitis and absent B cells. The mutation results in the absence of p85α but normal expression of the p50α and p55α regulatory subunits of PI3K. Bone marrow aspirates from the patient showed <0.1% CD19+ B cells with normal percentages of TdT+VpreB+CD19− B cell precursors. This developmental block is earlier than that seen in patients with defects in the B cell receptor signaling pathway or in a strain of engineered mice with a similar defect in p85α. The number and function of the patient’s T cells were normal. However, Western blot showed markedly decreased p110δ, as well as absent p85α, in patient T cells, neutrophils, and dendritic cells. The patient had normal growth and development and normal fasting glucose and insulin. Mice with p85α deficiency have insulin hypersensitivity, defective platelet function, and abnormal mast cell development. In contrast, the absence of p85α in the patient results in an early and severe defect in B cell development but minimal findings in other organ systems.
Neural tube defects (NTDs) are common birth defects (~1 in 1000 pregnancies in the US and Europe) that have complex origins, including environmental and genetic factors. A low level of maternal folate is one well-established risk factor, with maternal periconceptional folic acid supplementation reducing the occurrence of NTD pregnancies by 50-70%. Gene variants in the folate metabolic pathway (e.g., MTHFR rs1801133 (677 C > T) and MTHFD1 rs2236225 (R653Q)) have been found to increase NTD risk. We hypothesized that variants in additional folate/B12 pathway genes contribute to NTD risk.
A tagSNP approach was used to screen common variation in 82 candidate genes selected from the folate/B12 pathway and NTD mouse models. We initially genotyped polymorphisms in 320 Irish triads (NTD cases and their parents), including 301 cases and 341 Irish controls to perform case–control and family based association tests. Significantly associated polymorphisms were genotyped in a secondary set of 250 families that included 229 cases and 658 controls. The combined results for 1441 SNPs were used in a joint analysis to test for case and maternal effects.
Nearly 70 SNPs in 30 genes were found to be associated with NTDs at the p < 0.01 level. The ten strongest association signals (p-value range: 0.0003–0.0023) were found in nine genes (MFTC, CDKN2A, ADA, PEMT, CUBN, GART, DNMT3A, MTHFD1 and T (Brachyury)) and included the known NTD risk factor MTHFD1 R653Q (rs2236225). The single strongest signal was observed in a new candidate, MFTC rs17803441 (OR = 1.61 [1.23-2.08], p = 0.0003 for the minor allele). Though nominally significant, these associations did not remain significant after correction for multiple hypothesis testing.
To our knowledge, with respect to sample size and scope of evaluation of candidate polymorphisms, this is the largest NTD genetic association study reported to date. The scale of the study and the stringency of correction are likely to have contributed to real associations failing to survive correction. We have produced a ranked list of variants with the strongest association signals. Variants in the highest rank of associations are likely to include true associations and should be high priority candidates for further study of NTD risk.
Neural tube defects; Spina bifida; Folic acid; One-carbon metabolism; Candidate gene
Periconceptional use of folic acid prevents most neural tube defects (NTDs). Whether folic acid and/or multivitamins can prevent other congenital anomalies is not clear. This study tested whether maternal blood levels of folate and vitamin B12 in pregnancies affected by congenital malformations excluding NTDs are lower when compared to non-affected pregnancies.
We measured pregnancy red cell folate (RCF), vitamin B12, and homocysteine (tHcy) concentrations in blood samples taken at the first antenatal clinic in Dublin maternity hospitals in 1986–1990 when vitamin supplementation was rare. The cases were mothers who delivered a baby with a congenital malformation other than NTD identified by the Dublin EUROCAT Registry; controls were a systematic sample of mothers of offspring without congenital malformations from the same hospitals in the same time period.
The median maternal levels of RCF and tHcy did not differ significantly between cases and controls for any of the congenital malformation groups examined (RCF: all malformations 275.9 ug/L v controls 271.2; p=0.77; tHcy: all malformations 7.5 umol/L v controls 7.6; p=0.57). In an unadjusted analysis vitamin B12 was significantly higher in case-mothers whose babies had cleft palate only (p=0.006), musculoskeletal malformations (p=0.034) and midline defects (p=0.039) but not after adjustment for multiple testing.
Our data suggest that low maternal folate and B12 levels or high tHcy levels in early pregnancy are not associated with all congenital malformations excluding NTDs. Fortification with folic acid or B12 may not have a beneficial effect in the prevention of these anomalies.
To study the effect of in-utero alcohol exposure on the insulin-like growth factor axis (IGF) and leptin during infancy and childhood, considering that exposed children may exhibit pre- and postnatal growth retardation.
We prospectively identified heavily drinking pregnant women who consumed on average 4 or more drinks of ethanol per day (≥48 g/day) and assessed growth in 69 of their offspring and an unexposed control group of 83 children, measuring serum IGF-I (radioimmunoassay), IGF-II (immunoradiometric assay, IRMA), insulin-like growth factor-binding protein 3 (IGFBP-3) (IRMA) and leptin (IRMA) at 1 month and 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 years of age.
IGF-II levels increased with age in both groups, but the rate of increase was significantly higher in exposed children, and levels were significantly higher in ethanol-exposed children at 3, 4, and 5 years of age. In exposed children, IGF-I levels were higher at 3 and 4 years and leptin levels were significantly lower at 1 and 2 years. Exposed subjects showed a much lower correlation between IGF-I and growth parameters than unexposed subjects.
Exposure to ethanol during pregnancy increases IGF-I and IGF-II and decreases leptin during early childhood. The increase in serum IGF-II concentrations in ethanol-exposed children suggests that this hormone should be explored as a potential marker for prenatal alcohol exposure.
Fetal alcohol syndrome; Pregnancy; Alcohol abuse; Insulin-like growth factor I; Insulin-like growth factor II
We report the updated classification of primary immunodeficiency diseases, compiled by the ad hoc Expert Committee of the International Union of Immunological Societies. As compared to the previous edition, more than 15 novel disease entities have been added in the updated version. For each disorders, the key clinical and laboratory features are provided. This updated classification is meant to help in the diagnostic approach to patients with these diseases.
primary immunodeficiency diseases
More than 50 years after Ogdeon Bruton’s discovery of congenital agammaglobulinemia, human primary immunodeficiencies (PIDs) continue to unravel novel molecular and cellular mechanisms that govern development and function of the human immune system. This report provides the updated classification of PIDs, that has been compiled by the International Union of Immunological Societies (IUIS) Expert Committee of Primary Immunodeficiencies after its biannual meeting, in Dublin (Ireland) in June 2009. Since the appearance of the last classification in 2007, novel forms of PID have been discovered, and additional pathophysiology mechanisms that account for PID in humans have been unraveled. Careful analysis and prompt recognition of these disorders is essential to prompt effective forms of treatment and thus to improve survival and quality of life in patients affected with PIDs.
primary immunodeficiencies; T cells; B cells; severe combined immune deficiency; predominantly antibody deficiencies; DNA repair defects; phagocytes; complement; immune dysregulation syndromes; innate immunity; autoinflammatory disorders
This study was designed to provide more detailed information on the subcellular sites of binding of the porphycene, termed 9-capronyloxytetrakis (methoxyethyl) porphycene (CPO), with a fluorescence resonance energy transfer (FRET) technique. The proximity of CPO to two fluorescent probes was determined: nonyl acridine orange (NAO), a dye with specific affinity for the mitochondrial lipid cardiolipin, and dihexaoxacarbocyanine iodide (DiOC6), an agent that labels the endoplasmic reticulum (ER). FRET spectra indicated energy transfer between DiOC6 and CPO but no significant transfer between NAO and CPO. These results confirm data obtained by fluorescence microscopy, suggesting a similar pattern of subcellular localization by CPO and DiOC6 but not by CPO and NAO. However, when cells containing CPO were irradiated and then loaded with NAO, FRET between the two fluorophores was observed. Hence, a relocalization of CPO can occur during irradiation. These data provide an explanation for recent studies on CPO-catalyzed photodamage to both ER and mitochondrial Bcl-2.
In the past, immunodeficiencies were categorized based on clinical and laboratory findings in the affected patient. Now we are more likely to define them based on the specific gene involved. One might expect this shift to increase the precision and clarity of diagnosis but in the last few years it has become increasingly clear that identification of a mutation in a specific gene may not tell the whole story. Some gene defects may reliably result in clinical disease, others may act as susceptibility factors that are more common in patients with immunodeficiency but can also be found in otherwise healthy individuals. Distinguishing between these two types of gene defects is essential for informative genetic counseling.
Genetic and environmental factors contribute to the etiology of neural tube defects (NTDs). While periconceptional folic acid supplementation is known to significantly reduce the risk of NTDs, folate metabolic pathway related factors do not account for all NTDs. Evidence from mouse models indicates that the tumor protein p53 (TP53) is involved in implantation and normal neural tube development. To determine whether genetic variation in the TP53 might contribute to NTD risk in humans, we constructed a high resolution linkage disequilibrium (LD) map of the TP53 genomic region based on genotyping 21 markers in an Irish population. We found that nine of these variants can be used to capture the majority of common variation in the TP53 genomic region. In contrast, the 3-marker haplotype commonly reported in the TP53 literature offers limited coverage of the variation in the gene. We used the expanded set of polymorphisms to measure the influence of TP53 on NTDs using both case-control and family-based tests of association. We also assayed a functional variant in the p53 regulator MDM2 (rs2279744). Alleles of three noncoding TP53 markers were associated with NTD risk. A case effect was seen with the GG genotype of rs1625895 in intron 6 (OR = 1.37 [1.04-1.79], p=0.02). A maternal effect was seen with the 135/135 genotype of the intron 1 VNTR (OR = 1.86 [1.16-2.96], p=0.01) and the TT genotype of rs1614984 (RR = 0.58 [0.37-0.91], p=0.02). As multiple comparisons were made, these cannot be considered definitive positive findings and additional investigation is required.
neural tube defects; spina bifida; p53; TP53; MDM2; linkage disequilibrium
More than 20 North American academic centers account for the majority of hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HCT) procedures for primary immunodeficiency diseases (PIDs), with smaller numbers performed at additional sites. Given the importance of a timely diagnosis of these rare diseases and the diversity of practice sites, there is a need for guidance as to best practices in management of patients with PIDs before, during, and in follow-up for definitive treatment. In this conference report of immune deficiency experts and HCT physicians who care for patients with PIDs, we present expert guidance for (1) PID diagnoses that are indications for HCT, including severe combined immunodeficiency disease (SCID), combined immunodeficiency disease, and other non-SCID diseases; (2) the critical importance of a high degree of suspicion of the primary care physician and timeliness of diagnosis for PIDs; (3) the need for rapid referral to an immune deficiency expert, center with experience in HCT, or both for patients with PIDs; (4) medical management of a child with suspicion of SCID/combined immunodeficiency disease while confirming the diagnosis, including infectious disease management and workup; (5) the posttransplantation follow-up visit schedule; (6) antimicrobial prophylaxis after transplantation, including gamma globulin administration; and (7) important indications for return to the transplantation center after discharge. Finally, we discuss the role of high-quality databases in treatment of PIDs and HCTas an element of the infrastructure that will be needed for productive multicenter clinical trials in these rare diseases.
Allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplantation; gene therapy; primary immunodeficiency; clinical trial
Since many children with X-linked agammaglobulinemia (XLA) can now be expected to reach adulthood, knowledge of the status of adults with XLA would be of importance to the patients, their families, and the physicians caring for these patients. We performed the current study in adults with XLA to examine the impact of XLA on their daily lives and quality of life, their educational and socioeconomic status, their knowledge of the inheritance of their disorder, and their reproductive attitudes. Physicians who had entered adult patients with XLA in a national registry were asked to pass on a survey instrument to their patients. The patients then filled out the survey instrument and returned it directly to the investigators. Adults with XLA were hospitalized more frequently and missed more work and/or school than did the general United States population. However, their quality of life was comparable to that of the general United States population. They achieved a higher level of education and had a higher income than did the general United States population. Their knowledge of the inheritance of their disease was excellent. Sixty percent of them would not exercise any reproductive planning options as a result of their disease. The results of the current study suggest that although the disease impacts the daily lives of adults with XLA, they still become productive members of society and excel in many areas.
Both environmental and genetic factors are involved in the etiology of neural tube defects (NTDs). Inadequate folate intake and obesity are important environmental risk factors. Several folate-related genetic variants have been identified as risk factors; however, little is known about how genetic variants relate to the increased risk seen in obese women. Uncoupling Protein 2 (UCP2) is an attractive candidate to screen for NTD risk because of its possible role in obesity as well as energy metabolism, type-2 diabetes, and the regulation of reactive oxygen species. Interestingly, a previous study found that a common UCP2 compound homozygous genotype was associated with a threefold increase in NTD risk.
We evaluated three polymorphisms, −866G>A, A55V, and the 3′UTR 45bp insertion/deletion, as risk factors for NTDs in Irish NTD cases (N=169), their mothers (N=163), their fathers (N=167) and normal control subjects (N=332).
Allele and genotype frequencies were not significantly different when comparing NTD mothers, NTD fathers, or affected children to controls. Additionally, the previously reported risk genotype (combined homozygosity of 55VV and 3′UTR 45bp deletion/deletion) was not present at a higher frequency in any NTD group when compared to controls.
In our Irish study population, UCP2 polymorphisms do not influence NTD risk. Moreover, the prevalence of this allele in other populations was similar to the Irish prevalence but far lower than reported in the previous NTD study, suggesting that this previous finding of an association with NTDs might have been due to an unrepresentative study sample.
neural tube defects; spina bifida; UCP2; obesity
The precise pathway by which alcohol causes the characteristic features of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) is unknown. Proposed mechanisms for fetal injury from maternal alcohol use include cellular damage from oxidative stress and impaired fetal oxygenation related to maternal systemic vasoconstriction. Our objective was to compare levels of urinary markers of oxidative stress and systemic vasoconstriction between women consuming large amounts of alcohol during pregnancy and women who did not drink alcohol during pregnancy.
Pregnant women consuming ≥ 48g alcohol/day (n=29) on average and pregnant women who abstained from alcohol use (n=39) were identified using detailed interviews and home visits. Random maternal urine specimens were collected. Urinary levels of the oxidative stress marker, 8-isoprostane F2α, and of the vasoactive prostaglandin metabolites, 2,3-dinor-6-keto-prostaglandin F1α (a vasodilator) and 11-dehydro-thromboxane B2 (a vasoconstrictor), were measured using mass spectrometric methods. All analyte levels were corrected for urinary creatinine.
In crude analyses, there was no significant difference in 8-isoprostane F2α between pregnant drinkers and nondrinkers (2.16 vs. 2.08 ng/mg creatinine respectively, P=.87). There were no significant differences between the drinking and non-drinking groups in levels of 2,3-dinor-6-keto-prostaglandin F1α (1.03 vs. 1.17 ng/mg creatinine repectively, P=.50), 11-dehydro-thromboxane B2 (0.72 vs. 0.59 ng/mg creatinine respectively, P=.21), or the ratio of vasodilatory metabolite to vasoconstrictive metabolite (1.73 vs. 2.72 respectively, P=.14). Adjusting for maternal age, marital status, smoking, and gestational age at sampling did not substantially alter the results.
Our results show no difference in levels of urinary eicosanoid markers of oxidative stress and systemic vasoconstriction between pregnant women who drink heavily and pregnant women who abstain. These findings speak against a role for maternal oxidative stress or systemic vasoconstriction in the pathogenesis of alcohol damage to the fetus.
Alcohol; Pregnancy; Isoprostanes; Prostacyclin; Thromboxane; Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders
To determine whether children who do not develop fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) despite heavy alcohol exposure are at risk for eye abnormalities
We screened 9628 pregnant women and identified 101 women who were drinking ≥ 2 ounces of absolute alcohol per day and 101 non-drinking control women. We followed 43 exposed and 55 control offspring ages 4 to 9 years and performed masked, standardized ophthalomologic exams.
The groups did not differ in their rates of impaired visual acuity, refractory errors, ptosis, epicanthal folds, or short palpebral fissures. Biomicroscopy examinations were normal in all exposed subjects; two (4%) controls and no exposed had cataracts. Seven (16%) exposed subjects versus 8 (15%) controls had arterial tortuosity. No subjects had optic nerve hypoplasia.
Previous research has reported that children with FAS have a high incidence of serious ophthalmologic defects; our data show that the risk is limited to children with FAS, not children exposed to high levels of alcohol prenatally but who do not develop FAS. Eye examinations are unlikely to clarify the diagnosis in children suspected of having alcohol related damage.
Fetal Alcohol Syndrome; visual acuity; ocular malformations; birth defects; alcohol; eye; optic nerve hypoplasia
Cleft lip with or without cleft palate (CLP) and cleft palate only (CPO) have an inherited component and, many studies suggest, a relationship with folate. Attempts to find folate-related genes associated with clefts have, however, often been inconclusive. This study examined four SNPs related to folate metabolism (MTHFR 677 C→T, MTHFR 1298 A→C, MTHFD1 1958 G→A, and TC II 776 C→G) in a large Irish population to clarify their relationship with clefts.
Cases and their parents were recruited from major surgical centers performing cleft repairs in Ireland and a support organization. Data on risk factors, medical history, and DNA were collected. Controls were pregnant women from the greater Dublin area (n = 1,599).
CLP cases numbered 536 and CPO cases 426 after exclusions. CPO mothers were significantly more likely than controls to be MTHFR 677 TT, OR 1.50 (95% CI: 1.05–2.16; p = .03). Log-linear analysis showed a borderline association (p = .07). Isolated CPO case mothers were significantly more likely than controls to be homozygous for the MTHFD1 1958 G→A variant, OR 1.50 (95%CI: 1.08–2.09; p = .02). When multiple cases were added, both CPO cases and case mothers were significantly more likely to be AA (p = .02 and p = .007, respectively). The CLP case-control and mother-control analyses also showed significant effects, ORs 1.38 (95% CI: 1.05–1.82; p = .03) and 1.39 (95% CI: 1.04–1.85; p = .03), respectively.
Associations were found for both CPO and CLP and MTHFD1 1958 G→A in cases and case mothers. MTHFR 677 C→T could be a maternal risk factor for clefts but the association was not strong. Because multiple comparisons were made, these findings require additional investigation. Given the known association between MTHFD1 1958 G→A and NTDs, these findings should be explored in more detail.
cleft lip; cleft palate; oral clefts; folate; folate genes; vitamin B12; transcobalamin gene
Primary immune deficiency diseases (PID) comprise a genetically heterogeneous group of disorders that affect distinct components of the innate and adaptive immune system, such as neutrophils, macrophages, dendritic cells, complement proteins, NK cells, as well as T and B lymphocytes. The study of these diseases has provided essential insights into the functioning of the immune system. Over 120 distinct genes have been identified, whose abnormalities account for more than 150 different forms of PID. The complexity of the genetic, immunological, and clinical features of PID has prompted the need for their classification, with the ultimate goal of facilitating diagnosis and treatment. To serve this goal, an international Committee of experts has met every two years since 1970. In its last meeting in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, United States, following three days of intense scientific presentations and discussions, the Committee has updated the classification of PID as reported in this article.
Primary Immunodeficiency diseases; T cells; B cells; phagocytes; complement; immune dysregulation syndromes; innate immunity
The human peripheral B cell compartment displays a large population of IgM+IgD+CD27+ “memory” B cell carrying a mutated Ig receptor. We show here, by phenotypic analysis, CDR3 spectratyping during a T-independent response and gene expression profiling of the different blood and splenic B cell subsets, that blood IgM+IgD+CD27+ cells correspond to circulating splenic marginal zone B cells. Furthermore, analysis of this peripheral subset in normal children below 2 years shows that these B cells develop and mutate their Ig receptor during ontogeny, prior to their differentiation into T-independent antigen-responsive cells. It is therefore proposed that these IgM+IgD+CD27+ B cells provide the splenic marginal zone with a diversified and protective pre-immune repertoire in charge of the responses against encapsulated bacteria.
Adolescent; Adult; Aged; Antigens, CD27; Autoimmune Diseases; etiology; immunology; B-Lymphocytes; immunology; Blood Circulation; Child; Child, Preschool; Complementarity Determining Regions; analysis; Gene Expression Profiling; Gene Rearrangement, B-Lymphocyte; Humans; Immunoglobulin D; Immunoglobulin M; Immunologic Memory; genetics; Immunophenotyping; Infant; Middle Aged; Somatic Hypermutation, Immunoglobulin; Spleen; cytology
Mutations in a variety of genes can cause congenital agammaglobulinemia and a failure of B cell development. The currently known genes encode components of the pre–B cell receptor or proteins that are activated by cross-linking of the pre–B cell receptor. Defects in these genes result in a block in B cell differentiation at the pro–B to pre–B cell transition. A patient with a translocation involving a previously unknown gene, LRRC8, demonstrated a block at exactly the same point in B cell differentiation (see the related article beginning on page 1707). It will be interesting to determine whether the protein encoded by this gene interacts with the pre–B cell receptor signal transduction pathway or is involved in a new pathway.
Autosomal recessive disorders of B cell development are rare and heterogeneous. To determine the proportion of affected patients who have defects in the μ heavy chain (IGHM) gene, we used single-stranded conformational polymorphism analysis to screen genomic DNA from 40 unrelated patients with early onset infections, profound hypogammaglobulinemia, and absent B cells. All of the patients were genotypically normal in BTK, the gene that underlies X-linked agammaglobulinemia. Eight different mutations in the μ heavy chain were identified in 19 members of 12 unrelated families. Four of the mutations were large deletions that removed more than 40 kb of DNA in the IGHM locus. In six of the 12 families, the affected patients had an identical single base pair substitution, a G→A, at the –1 position of the alternative splice site. Immunoglobulin haplotype analysis showed that this mutation occurred on at least three different haplotypes, indicating that this is a hot spot for mutations. Compared with patients with mutations in Btk, patients with defects in the μ heavy chain had an earlier onset of disease and more complications. Our study indicates that at least 20–30% of patients with autosomal recessive defects in B cell development have mutations in the μ heavy chain.
Mutations in Btk, μ heavy chain, or the surrogate light chain account for 85–90% of patients with early onset hypogammaglobulinemia and absent B cells. The nature of the defect in the remaining patients is unknown. We screened 25 such patients for mutations in genes encoding components of the pre–B-cell receptor (pre-BCR) complex. A 2-year-old girl was found to have a homozygous splice defect in Igα, a transmembrane protein that forms part of the Igα/Igβ signal-transduction module of the pre-BCR. Studies in mice suggest that the Igβ component of the pre-BCR influences V-DJ rearrangement before cell-surface expression of μ heavy chain. To determine whether Igα plays a similar role, we compared B-cell development in an Igα-deficient patient with that seen in a μ heavy chain–deficient patient. By immunofluorescence, both patients had a complete block in B-cell development at the pro-B to pre-B transition; both patients also had an equivalent number and diversity of rearranged V-DJ sequences. These results indicate that mutations in Igα can be a cause of agammaglobulinemia. Furthermore, they suggest that Igα does not play a critical role in B-cell development until it is expressed, along with μ heavy chain, as part of the pre-BCR.
B cell precursors transiently express a pre–B cell receptor complex consisting of a rearranged mu heavy chain, a surrogate light chain composed of λ5/14.1 and VpreB, and the immunoglobulin (Ig)-associated signal transducing chains, Igα and Igβ. Mutations in the mu heavy chain are associated with a complete failure of B cell development in both humans and mice, whereas mutations in murine λ5 result in a leaky phenotype with detectable humoral responses. In evaluating patients with agammaglobulinemia and markedly reduced numbers of B cells, we identified a boy with mutations on both alleles of the gene for λ5/14.1. The maternal allele carried a premature stop codon in the first exon of λ5/14.1 and the paternal allele demonstrated three basepair substitutions in a 33-basepair sequence in exon 3. The three substitutions correspond to the sequence in the λ5/14.1 pseudogene 16.1 and result in an amino acid substitution at an invariant proline. When expressed in COS cells, the allele carrying the pseudogene sequence resulted in defective folding and secretion of mutant λ5/14.1. These findings indicate that expression of the functional λ5/14.1 is critical for B cell development in the human.