Assessment of Sacsin Turnover in Patients With ARSACS: Implications for Molecular Diagnosis and Pathogenesis

Background and Objectives

Autosomal recessive spastic ataxia of Charlevoix-Saguenay (ARSACS) is caused by variations in SACS gene encoding sacsin, a huge multimodular protein of unknown function. More than 200 SACS variations have been described worldwide to date. Because ARSACS presents phenotypic variability, previous empirical studies attempted to correlate the nature and position of SACS variations with the age at onset or with disease severity, although not considering the effect of the various variations on protein stability. In this work, we studied genotype-phenotype correlation in ARSACS at a functional level.

Methods

We analyzed a large set of skin fibroblasts derived from patients with ARSACS, including both new and already published cases, carrying variations of different types affecting diverse domains of the protein.

Results

We found that sacsin is almost absent in patients with ARSACS, regardless of the nature of the variation. As expected, we did not detect sacsin in patients with truncating variations. We found it strikingly reduced or absent also in compound heterozygotes carrying diverse missense variations. In this case, we excluded SACS mRNA decay, defective translation, or faster posttranslational degradation as possible causes of protein reduction. Conversely, our results demonstrate that nascent mutant sacsin protein undergoes cotranslational ubiquitination and degradation.

Discussion

Our results provide a mechanistic explanation for the lack of genotype-phenotype correlation in ARSACS. We also propose a new and unambiguous criterion for ARSACS diagnosis that is based on the evaluation of sacsin level. Last, we identified preemptive degradation of a mutant protein as a novel cause of a human disease.

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