Cathepsin D deficiency underlies congenital human neuronal ceroid-lipofuscinosis

Brain. 2006 Jun;129(Pt 6):1438-45. doi: 10.1093/brain/awl107. Epub 2006 May 2.


Congenital neuronal ceroid-lipofuscinosis (NCL) is a devastating inherited neurodegenerative disorder of unknown metabolic basis. Eight patients with this rare disorder, all with similar clinical and neuropathological findings, have been reported, and here we describe two further patients. Previously, we showed that a mutation in the cathepsin D gene causes congenital NCL in sheep. On the basis of the neuropathological and ultrastructural similarities between the sheep and patients affected with congenital NCL, we screened the cathepsin D gene for mutations in a patient of Pakistani origin. We identified a nucleotide duplication, c.764dupA, in the cathepsin D gene in homozygous form in the patient, and in heterozygous form in his father. This duplication is likely to be disease-causing, as it creates a premature stop codon, predicting a truncation of the protein. When transiently expressed in cell cultures, the mutant protein was enzymatically inactive, but stable. In paraffin-embedded brain tissue samples of two affected siblings of the Pakistani patient, cathepsin D was absent, suggesting rapid degradation of the c.764dupA mutant cathepsin D at mRNA or protein level in vivo. Further, we were able to confirm lack of cathepsin D in the brain tissue of yet another, unrelated, patient of English origin with congenital NCL. On the basis of the present data, and the nearly identical clinical and/or pathological phenotype of the other reported cases of congenital NCL, it is reasonable to suggest that cathepsin D deficiency caused by mutations in the corresponding gene may underlie all cases of congenital NCL. The present observations also suggest that cathepsin D deficiency should be considered as a possible diagnosis in microcephalic neonates, who present with seizures at or before birth.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Base Sequence
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Brain / pathology
  • Cathepsin D / deficiency*
  • Cathepsin D / genetics
  • Cathepsin D / metabolism
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Cricetinae
  • DNA Mutational Analysis / methods
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Mutagenesis, Site-Directed / methods
  • Mutation / genetics*
  • Neuronal Ceroid-Lipofuscinoses / congenital
  • Neuronal Ceroid-Lipofuscinoses / genetics*
  • Neuronal Ceroid-Lipofuscinoses / metabolism
  • Neuronal Ceroid-Lipofuscinoses / pathology
  • Phenotype
  • Transfection


  • Cathepsin D