Protein misfolding as an underlying molecular defect in mucopolysaccharidosis III type C

PLoS One. 2009 Oct 13;4(10):e7434. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0007434.


Mucopolysaccharidosis type IIIC or Sanfilippo syndrome type C (MPS IIIC, MIM #252930) is an autosomal recessive disorder caused by deficiency of the lysosomal membrane enzyme, heparan sulfate acetyl-CoA: alpha-glucosaminide N-acetyltransferase (HGSNAT, EC, which catalyses transmembrane acetylation of the terminal glucosamine residues of heparan sulfate prior to their hydrolysis by alpha-N-acetylglucosaminidase. Lysosomal storage of undegraded heparan sulfate in the cells of affected patients leads to neuronal death causing neurodegeneration and is accompanied by mild visceral and skeletal abnormalities, including coarse facies and joint stiffness. Surprisingly, the majority of MPS IIIC patients carrying missense mutations are as severely affected as those with splicing errors, frame shifts or nonsense mutations resulting in the complete absence of HGSNAT protein.In order to understand the effects of the missense mutations in HGSNAT on its enzymatic activity and biogenesis, we have expressed 21 mutant proteins in cultured human fibroblasts and COS-7 cells and studied their folding, targeting and activity. We found that 17 of the 21 missense mutations in HGSNAT caused misfolding of the enzyme, which is abnormally glycosylated and not targeted to the lysosome, but retained in the endoplasmic reticulum. The other 4 mutants represented rare polymorphisms which had no effect on the activity, processing and targeting of the enzyme. Treatment of patient cells with a competitive HGSNAT inhibitor, glucosamine, partially rescued several of the expressed mutants. Altogether our data provide an explanation for the severity of MPS IIIC and suggest that search for pharmaceutical chaperones can in the future result in therapeutic options for this disease.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acetyltransferases / chemistry*
  • Alternative Splicing
  • Animals
  • COS Cells
  • Catalysis
  • Chlorocebus aethiops
  • Endoplasmic Reticulum / metabolism
  • Fibroblasts / metabolism
  • Heparitin Sulfate / chemistry
  • Humans
  • Lysosomes / metabolism
  • Mucopolysaccharidosis III / genetics
  • Mucopolysaccharidosis III / metabolism*
  • Polymorphism, Genetic
  • Protein Conformation
  • Protein Folding


  • Heparitin Sulfate
  • Acetyltransferases
  • HGSNAT protein, human