Objective: The giant protein titin is essential for striated muscle development, structure, and elasticity. All titin mutations reported to date cause late-onset, dominant disorders involving either skeletal muscle or the heart. Our aim was to delineate the phenotype and determine the genetic defects in two consanguineous families with an early-onset, recessive muscle and cardiac disorder.
Methods: Clinical and myopathological reevaluation of the five affected children, positional cloning, immunofluorescence, and Western blot studies were performed.
Results: All children presented with congenital muscle weakness and childhood-onset fatal dilated cardiomyopathy. Skeletal muscle biopsies showed minicores, centrally located nuclei, and/or dystrophic lesions. In each family, we identified a homozygous titin deletion in exons encoding the C-terminal M-line region. Both deletions cause a frameshift downstream of the titin kinase domain and protein truncation. Immunofluorescence confirmed that truncated titins lacking the C-terminal end were incorporated into sarcomeres. Calpain 3 was secondarily depleted.
Interpretation: M-line titin homozygous truncations cause the first congenital and purely recessive titinopathy, and the first to involve both cardiac and skeletal muscle. These results expand the spectrum of early-onset myopathies and suggest that titin segments downstream of the kinase domain are dispensable for skeletal and cardiac muscle development, but are crucial for maintaining sarcomere integrity.