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J Med Genet. Jul 2003; 40(7): 479–486.
PMCID: PMC1735525

Subcellular localisation, secretion, and post-translational processing of normal cochlin, and of mutants causing the sensorineural deafness and vestibular disorder, DFNA9

Abstract

Five missense mutations in the FCH/LCCL domain of the COCH gene, encoding the protein cochlin, are pathogenic for the autosomal dominant hearing loss and vestibular dysfunction disorder, DFNA9. To date, the function of cochlin and the mechanism of pathogenesis of the mutations are unknown. We have used the biological system of transient transfections of the entire protein coding region of COCH into several mammalian cell lines, to investigate various functional properties of cochlin. By western blot analysis of lysates prepared from transfected cells, we show that cochlin is a secreted protein. Immunocytochemistry shows concentrated localisation of cochlin in perinuclear structures consistent with the Golgi apparatus and endoplasmic reticulum, showing intracellular passage through these secretory compartments. We detected that cochlin is proteolytically cleaved between the FCH/LCCL domain and the downstream vWFA domains, resulting in a smaller cochlin isoform of ~50 kDa. Interestingly, this isoform lacks the entire mutation bearing FCH/LCCL domain. We have also shown that cochlin is N-glycosylated in its mature secreted form. Previous studies of the FCH/LCCL domain alone, expressed in bacteria, have demonstrated that three of four DFNA9 mutations cause misfolding of this domain. Characteristic eosinophilic deposits in DFNA9 affected inner ear structures could be the result of aberrant folding, secretion, or solubility of mutated cochlins, as in certain other pathological states in which misfolded proteins accumulate and aggregate causing toxicity. To examine the biological consequences of cochlin misfolding, we made separate constructs with three of the DFNA9 mutations and performed parallel studies of the mutated and wild type cochlins. We detected that mutated cochlins are not retained intracellularly, and are able to be secreted adequately by the cells, through the Golgi/ER secretory pathway, and also undergo proteolytic cleavage and glycosylation. These results suggest that DFNA9 mutations may manifest deleterious effects beyond the point of secretion, in the unique environment of the extracellular matrix of the inner ear by disrupting cochlin function or interfering with protein-protein interactions involving the FCH/LCCL domain. It is also possible that the mutations may result in aggregation of cochlin in vivo over a longer time course, as supported by the late onset and progressive nature of this disorder.

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Selected References

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