The scalp-ear-nipple (SEN) syndrome is an autosomal-dominant disorder characterized by cutis aplasia of the scalp and malformations of breast, external ears, digits, and nails. Genetic analyses have shown that the disease is caused by missense mutations of the KCTD1 protein, although the functional/structural basis of SEN insurgence is hitherto unknown. With the aim of unravelling the molecular basis of the SEN syndrome associated with KCTD1 mutations we here expressed and characterized several disease causing mutants. A preliminary dissection of the protein provides insights into the role that individual domains play in KCTD1 stability. The characterization of SEN-causing mutants indicates that, although the mutation sites are located in distant regions of the BTB domain or of the pre-BTB region, all of them are unable to interact with the transcription factor AP-2α, a well-known KCTD1 biological partner. Notably, all mutations, including the one located in the pre-BTB region, produce a significant destabilization of the protein. The structural role of the pre-BTB region in KCTD1 and other proteins of the family is corroborated by its sequence conservation in orthologs and paralogs. Interestingly, SEN-causing mutations also favor the tendency of KCTD1 to adopt structural states that are characterized by the ability to bind the β-amyloid fluorescent dye thioflavin T. The formation of aggregation-prone species may have important implications for the disease etiology. Collectively, these findings provide an intriguing picture of the functional and structural alterations induced by KCTD1 mutations that ultimately lead to disease.
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