Purpose: Unverricht-Lundborg disease (EPM1A) is frequently due to an unstable expansion of a dodecamer repeat in the CSTB gene, whereas other types of mutations are rare. EPM1A due to homozygous expansion has a rather stereotyped presentation with prominent action myoclonus. We describe eight patients with five different compound heterozygous CSTB point or indel mutations in order to highlight their particular phenotypical presentations and evaluate their genotype–phenotype relationships.
Methods: We screened CSTB mutations by means of Southern blotting and the sequencing of the genomic DNA of each proband. CSTB messenger RNA (mRNA) aberrations were characterized by sequencing the complementary DNA (cDNA) of lymphoblastoid cells, and assessing the protein concentrations in the lymphoblasts. The patient evaluations included the use of a simplified myoclonus severity rating scale, multiple neurophysiologic tests, and electroencephalography (EEG)–polygraphic recordings. To highlight the particular clinical features and disease time-course in compound heterozygous patients, we compared some of their characteristics with those observed in a series of 40 patients carrying the common homozygous expansion mutation observed at the C. Besta Foundation, Milan, Italy.
Key Findings: The eight compound heterozygous patients belong to six EPM1A families (out of 52; 11.5%) diagnosed at the Laboratory of Genetics of the Galliera Hospitals in Genoa, Italy. They segregated five different heterozygous point or indel mutations in association with the common dodecamer expansion. Four patients from three families had previously reported CSTB mutations (c.67-1G>C and c.168+1_18del); one had a novel nonsense mutation at the first exon (c.133C>T) leading to a premature stop codon predicting a short peptide; the other three patients from two families had a complex novel indel mutation involving the donor splice site of intron 2 (c.168+2_169+21delinsAA) and leading to an aberrant transcript with a partially retained intron. The protein dose (cystatin B/β-actin) in our heterozygous patients was 0.24 ± 0.02, which is not different from that assessed in patients bearing the homozygous dodecamer expansion. The compound heterozygous patients had a significantly earlier disease onset (7.4 ± 1.7 years) than the homozygous patients, and their disease presentations included frequent myoclonic seizures and absences, often occurring in clusters throughout the course of the disease. The seizures were resistant to the pharmacologic treatments that usually lead to complete seizure control in homozygous patients. EEG-polygraphy allowed repeated seizures to be recorded. Action myoclonus progressively worsened and all of the heterozygous patients older than 30 years were in wheelchairs. Most of the patients showed moderate to severe cognitive impairment, and six had psychiatric symptoms.
Significance: EPM1A due to compound heterozygous CSTB mutations presents with variable but often markedly severe and particular phenotypes. Most of our patients presented with the electroclinical features of severe epilepsy, which is unexpected in homozygous patients, and showed frequent seizures resistant to pharmacologic treatment. The presence of variable phenotypes (even in siblings) suggests interactions with other genetic factors influencing the final disease presentation.