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Neurol Genet. 2018 Jun 5;4(3):e244. doi: 10.1212/NXG.0000000000000244. eCollection 2018 Jun.

Absence of NEFL in patient-specific neurons in early-onset Charcot-Marie-Tooth neuropathy.

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Research Programs Unit (M.T.S., E.Y., L.M., M.A., H.T.), Molecular Neurology, University of Helsinki; Clinical Neurosciences, Neurology (E.Y., M.A.), University of Helsinki and Helsinki University Hospital; Institute for Molecular Medicine Finland (FIMM) (J.L., P.M.), University of Helsinki; Neuromuscular Research Center (J.P.), Tampere University Hospital and University of Tampere; and Department of Medical and Clinical Genetics (H.T.), University of Helsinki, Finland.



We used patient-specific neuronal cultures to characterize the molecular genetic mechanism of recessive nonsense mutations in neurofilament light (NEFL) underlying early-onset Charcot-Marie-Tooth (CMT) disease.


Motor neurons were differentiated from induced pluripotent stem cells of a patient with early-onset CMT carrying a novel homozygous nonsense mutation in NEFL. Quantitative PCR, protein analytics, immunocytochemistry, electron microscopy, and single-cell transcriptomics were used to investigate patient and control neurons.


We show that the recessive nonsense mutation causes a nearly total loss of NEFL messenger RNA (mRNA), leading to the complete absence of NEFL protein in patient's cultured neurons. Yet the cultured neurons were able to differentiate and form neuronal networks and neurofilaments. Single-neuron gene expression fingerprinting pinpointed NEFL as the most downregulated gene in the patient neurons and provided data of intermediate filament transcript abundancy and dynamics in cultured neurons. Blocking of nonsense-mediated decay partially rescued the loss of NEFL mRNA.


The strict neuronal specificity of neurofilament has hindered the mechanistic studies of recessive NEFL nonsense mutations. Here, we show that such mutation leads to the absence of NEFL, causing childhood-onset neuropathy through a loss-of-function mechanism. We propose that the neurofilament accumulation, a common feature of many neurodegenerative diseases, mimics the absence of NEFL seen in recessive CMT if aggregation prevents the proper localization of wild-type NEFL in neurons. Our results suggest that the removal of NEFL as a proposed treatment option is harmful in humans.

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