LHX3 is an LIM domain transcription factor involved in the early steps of pituitary ontogenesis. We report here functional studies of three allelic variants, including the first heterozygous variant of LHX3 NM_178138.5(LHX3):c.587T>C (p.(Leu196Pro)) that may be responsible for a milder phenotype of hypopituitarism. Our functional studies showed that NM_178138.5(LHX3):c.587T>C (p.(Leu196Pro)) was not able to activate target promoters in vitro, as it did not bind DNA, and likely affected LHX3 function via a mechanism of haplo-insufficiency. Our study demonstrates the possibility that patients with a heterozygous variant of LHX3 may have pituitary deficiencies, with a milder phenotype than patients with homozygous variants. It is thus of vital to propose an optimal follow-up of such patients, who, until now, were considered as not being at risk of presenting pituitary deficiency. The second variant NM_178138.5(LHX3):c.622C>G (p.(Arg208Gly)), present in a homozygous state, displayed decreased transactivating ability without loss of binding capacity in vitro, concordant with in silico analysis; it should thus be considered to affect LHX3 function. In contrast, the NM_178138.5(LHX3):c.929G>C (p.(Arg310Pro)) variant, in a heterozygous state, also predicted as deleterious in silico, proved functionally active in vitro, and should thus still be classified as a variant of unknown significance. Our study emphasizes the need for functional studies due to the limits of software-based predictions of new variants, and the possible association of a pituitary phenotype to heterozygous LHX3 variants.
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