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Mol Autism. 2020 Jan 8;11:4. doi: 10.1186/s13229-019-0310-4. eCollection 2020.

Biophysical classification of a CACNA1D de novo mutation as a high-risk mutation for a severe neurodevelopmental disorder.

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1Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology, Centre for Molecular Biosciences, University of Innsbruck, Innrain 80/82, 6020 Innsbruck, Austria.
2Institute of General, Inorganic and Theoretical Chemistry, Centre for Molecular Biosciences, University of Innsbruck, Innsbruck, Austria.
3Division of Physiology, Department of Physiology and Medical Physics, Medical University Innsbruck, 6020 Innsbruck, Austria.
West Midlands Regional Clinical Genetics Service, Birmingham Women's and Children's Hospital, National Health Service Foundation Trust, B15 2TG, Birmingham, UK.



There is increasing evidence that de novo CACNA1D missense mutations inducing increased Cav1.3 L-type Ca2+-channel-function confer a high risk for neurodevelopmental disorders (autism spectrum disorder with and without neurological and endocrine symptoms). Electrophysiological studies demonstrating the presence or absence of typical gain-of-function gating changes could therefore serve as a tool to distinguish likely disease-causing from non-pathogenic de novo CACNA1D variants in affected individuals. We tested this hypothesis for mutation S652L, which has previously been reported in twins with a severe neurodevelopmental disorder in the Deciphering Developmental Disorder Study, but has not been classified as a novel disease mutation.


For functional characterization, wild-type and mutant Cav1.3 channel complexes were expressed in tsA-201 cells and tested for typical gain-of-function gating changes using the whole-cell patch-clamp technique.


Mutation S652L significantly shifted the voltage-dependence of activation and steady-state inactivation to more negative potentials (~ 13-17 mV) and increased window currents at subthreshold voltages. Moreover, it slowed tail currents and increased Ca2+-levels during action potential-like stimulations, characteristic for gain-of-function changes. To provide evidence that only gain-of-function variants confer high disease risk, we also studied missense variant S652W reported in apparently healthy individuals. S652W shifted activation and inactivation to more positive voltages, compatible with a loss-of-function phenotype. Mutation S652L increased the sensitivity of Cav1.3 for inhibition by the dihydropyridine L-type Ca2+-channel blocker isradipine by 3-4-fold.Conclusions and limitationsOur data provide evidence that gain-of-function CACNA1D mutations, such as S652L, but not loss-of-function mutations, such as S652W, cause high risk for neurodevelopmental disorders including autism. This adds CACNA1D to the list of novel disease genes identified in the Deciphering Developmental Disorder Study. Although our study does not provide insight into the cellular mechanisms of pathological Cav1.3 signaling in neurons, we provide a unifying mechanism of gain-of-function CACNA1D mutations as a predictor for disease risk, which may allow the establishment of a more reliable diagnosis of affected individuals. Moreover, the increased sensitivity of S652L to isradipine encourages a therapeutic trial in the two affected individuals. This can address the important question to which extent symptoms are responsive to therapy with Ca2+-channel blockers.


Autism spectrum disorder; CACNA1D; Gain-of-function mutation; L-type Ca2+-channels; Neurodevelopmental disorder

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