Background: Up to the 1950s, there was an ongoing debate about the diversity of hereditary optic neuropathies, in particular as to whether all inherited optic atrophies can be ascribed to Leber's hereditary optic neuropathy (LHON) or represent different disease entities. In 1954 W. Jaeger published a detailed clinical and genealogical investigation of a large family with explicit autosomal dominant segregation of optic atrophy thus proving the existence of a discrete disease different from LHON, which is nowadays known as autosomal dominant optic atrophy (ADOA). Since the year 2000 ADOA is associated with genomic mutations in the OPA1 gene, which codes for a protein that is imported into mitochondria where it is required for mitochondrial fusion. Interestingly enough, the underlying mutation in this family has not been identified since then.
Results: We have reinvestigated this family with the aim to identify the mutation and to further clarify the underlying pathomechanism. Patients showed a classical non-syndromic ADOA. The long term deterioration in vision in the two teenagers examined 50 years later is of particular note 5/20 to 6/120. Multiplex ligation probe amplification revealed a duplication of the OPA1 exons 7-9 which was confirmed by long distance PCR and cDNA analysis, resulting in an in-frame duplication of 102 amino acids. Segregation was verified in 53 available members of the updated pedigree and a penetrance of 88% was calculated. Fibroblast cultures from skin biopsies were established to assess the mitochondrial network integrity and to qualitatively and quantitatively study the consequences of the mutation on transcript and protein level. Fibroblast cultures demonstrated a fragmented mitochondrial network. Processing of the OPA1 protein was altered. There was no correlation of the OPA1 transcript levels and the OPA1 protein levels in the fibroblasts. Intriguingly an overall decrease of mitochondrial proteins was observed in patients' fibroblasts, while the OPA1 transcript levels were elevated.
Conclusions: The thorough study of this family provides a detailed clinical picture accompanied by a molecular investigation of patients' fibroblasts. Our data show a classic OPA1-associated non-syndromic ADOA segregating in this family. Cell biological findings suggest that OPA1 is regulated by post-translational mechanisms and we would like to hypothesize that loss of OPA1 function might lead to impaired mitochondrial quality control. With the clinical, genetic and cell biological characterisation of a family described already more than 50 years ago, we span more than half a century of research in optic neuropathies.