The PHOX2B transcription factor plays a crucial role in autonomic nervous system development. In humans, heterozygous mutations of the PHOX2B gene lead to congenital central hypoventilation syndrome (CCHS), a rare disorder characterized by a broad variety of symptoms of autonomic nervous system dysfunction including inadequate control of breathing. The vast majority of patients with CCHS are heterozygous for a polyalanine repeat expansion mutation involving a polyalanine tract of twenty residues in the C-terminus of PHOX2B. Although several lines of evidence support a dominant-negative mechanism for PHOX2B mutations in CCHS, the molecular effects of PHOX2B mutant proteins on the transcriptional activity of the wild-type protein have not yet been elucidated. As one of the targets of PHOX2B is the PHOX2B gene itself, we tested the transcriptional activity of wild-type and mutant proteins on the PHOX2B gene promoter, and found that the transactivation ability of proteins with polyalanine expansions decreased as a function of the length of the expansion, whereas DNA binding was severely affected only in the case of the mutant with the longest polyalanine tract (+13 alanine). Co-transfection experiments using equimolar amounts of PHOX2B wild-type and mutant proteins in order to simulate a heterozygous state in vitro and four different PHOX2B target gene regulatory regions (PHOX2B, PHOX2A, DBH, TLX2) clearly showed that the polyalanine expanded proteins alter the transcriptional activity of wild-type protein in a promoter-specific manner, without any clear correlation with the length of the expansion. Moreover, although reduced transactivation may be caused by retention of the wild-type protein in the cytoplasm or in nuclear aggregates, this mechanism can only be partially responsible for the pathogenesis of CCHS because of the reduction in cytoplasmic and nuclear accumulation when the +13 alanine mutant is co-expressed with wild-type protein, and the fact that the shortest polyalanine expansions do not form visible cytoplasmic aggregates. Deletion of the C-terminal of PHOX2B leads to a protein that correctly localizes in the nucleus but impairs PHOX2B wild-type transcriptional activity, thus suggesting that protein mislocalization is not the only mechanism leading to CCHS.The results of this study provide novel in vitro experimental evidence of a transcriptional dominant-negative effect of PHOX2B polyalanine mutant proteins on wild-type protein on two different PHOX2B target genes.
- Congenital central hypoventilation syndrome
- DNA binding
- Polyalanine mutations
ASJC Scopus subject areas