Bi-allelic LETM1 variants perturb mitochondrial ion homeostasis leading to a clinical spectrum with predominant nervous system involvement
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Leucine zipper-EF-hand containing transmembrane protein 1 (LETM1) encodes an inner mitochondrial membrane protein with an osmoregulatory function controlling mitochondrial volume and ion homeostasis. The putative association of LETM1 with a human disease was initially suggested in Wolf-Hirschhorn syndrome, a disorder that results from de novo monoallelic deletion of chromosome 4p16.3, a region encompassing LETM1. Utilizing exome sequencing and international gene-matching efforts, we have identified 18 affected individuals from 11 unrelated families harboring ultra-rare bi-allelic missense and loss-of-function LETM1 variants and clinical presentations highly suggestive of mitochondrial disease. These manifested as a spectrum of predominantly infantile-onset (14/18, 78%) and variably progressive neurological, metabolic, and dysmorphic symptoms, plus multiple organ dysfunction associated with neurodegeneration. The common features included respiratory chain complex deficiencies (100%), global developmental delay (94%), optic atrophy (83%), sensorineural hearing loss (78%), and cerebellar ataxia (78%) followed by epilepsy (67%), spasticity (53%), and myopathy (50%). Other features included bilateral cataracts (42%), cardiomyopathy (36%), and diabetes (27%). To better understand the pathogenic mechanism of the identified LETM1 variants, we performed biochemical and morphological studies on mitochondrial K+/H+ exchange activity, proteins, and shape in proband-derived fibroblasts and muscles and in Saccharomyces cerevisiae, which is an important model organism for mitochondrial osmotic regulation. Our results demonstrate that bi-allelic LETM1 variants are associated with defective mitochondrial K+ efflux, swollen mitochondrial matrix structures, and loss of important mitochondrial oxidative phosphorylation protein components, thus highlighting the implication of perturbed mitochondrial osmoregulation caused by LETM1 variants in neurological and mitochondrial pathologies.
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