© Double helix DNA – National Human Genome Research Institute, National Institutes of Health.
In the face of childhood neurodevelopmental disorders, how can we get out of the therapeutic “dead end”? The answer could well be found in the genes of the proteasome – an intracellular mechanism that is responsible for removing defective proteins from the cell. A research team from Inserm, CNRS, Nantes Université and Nantes University Hospital, at the Thorax Institute and in collaboration with international teams, studied the genome of 23 children with neurodevelopmental disorders. What they found were fifteen mutations in the PSMC3 gene of the proteasome, which may be involved in their disease. This research, published in Science Translational Medicine, opens up new research perspectives in order to better understand these diseases and identify treatments.
The origin of neurodevelopmental disorders in children remains difficult to identify, with patients and their families often having to wait several years for a diagnosis.
A research team from the Thorax Institute (Inserm/CNRS/Nantes Université/Nantes University Hospital), led by Stéphane Bézieau, Head of the Medical Genetics Department at Nantes University Hospital, has been working on the genetics of neurodevelopmental disorders in children for several years. In particular, its research has led to the identification of the role of a gene called PSMD12 in a childhood neurodevelopmental disease. This gene is expressed in a large complex of proteins located in the cells, which is called the proteasome.
The proteasome acts as a kind of “garbage collector” within the cell. By eliminating the defective proteins it contains, the proteasome plays a decisive role in a large number of cell processes. Alterations that may appear on some of its constituent genes are likely to affect its ability to break down defective proteins. Their accumulation results in the development of a wide variety of pathologies.
In new research in collaboration with international teams, the team continued to explore the links between proteasome gene mutations and neurodevelopmental diseases. This time it was more specifically interested in the proteasome PSMC3 gene and its involvement in the neurodevelopmental disorders of 23 young European, U.S. and Australian patients with neurological symptoms (delayed speech, intellectual disability, or behavioral problems) frequently associated with abnormalities of the face and malformations of the skeleton, heart and other organs.
Thanks to the full sequencing of the genome of these patients, the researchers have revealed fifteen mutations in the PSMC3 gene likely to explain the origin of the symptoms.
“It quickly became apparent that the cells of patients with a defective PSMC3 gene were literally overloaded with unnecessary and toxic proteins,” explains Frédéric Ebstein, Inserm researcher and first author of the study.
He compares this phenomenon to that observed in some age-related neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s.
“The discovery of the involvement of a second gene in childhood neurodevelopmental disorders provides unprecedented insight into this group of rare diseases that had been unknown until recently, clarifies researcher Sébastien Küry, an engineer at Nantes University Hospital, who co-signed this research. This research, combined with the team’s recent discovery of other genes involved [but not published as yet, ed.], opens up major perspectives in the understanding of this group of neurodevelopmental diseases as well as prospects for their treatment,” he concludes.
This research is supported by the French National Research Agency (ANR), the European Union (European Joint Programme on Rare Diseases), and the insurance company AXA.