Background: Mutations in the gene encoding thyroid transcription factor, NKX2-1, result in neurologic abnormalities, hypothyroidism, and neonatal respiratory distress syndrome (RDS) that together are known as the brain-thyroid-lung syndrome. To characterize the spectrum of associated pulmonary phenotypes, we identified individuals with mutations in NKX2-1 whose primary manifestation was respiratory disease.
Methods: Retrospective and prospective approaches identified infants and children with unexplained diffuse lung disease for NKX2-1 sequencing. Histopathologic results and electron micrographs were assessed, and immunohistochemical analysis for surfactant-associated proteins was performed in a subset of 10 children for whom lung tissue was available.
Results: We identified 16 individuals with heterozygous missense, nonsense, and frameshift mutations and five individuals with heterozygous, whole-gene deletions of NKX2-1. Neonatal RDS was the presenting pulmonary phenotype in 16 individuals (76%), interstitial lung disease in four (19%), and pulmonary fibrosis in one adult family member. Altogether, 12 individuals (57%) had the full triad of neurologic, thyroid, and respiratory manifestations, but five (24%) had only pulmonary symptoms at the time of presentation. Recurrent respiratory infections were a prominent feature in nine subjects. Lung histopathology demonstrated evidence of disrupted surfactant homeostasis in the majority of cases, and at least five cases had evidence of disrupted lung growth.
Conclusions: Patients with mutations in NKX2-1 may present with pulmonary manifestations in the newborn period or during childhood when thyroid or neurologic abnormalities are not apparent. Surfactant dysfunction and, in more severe cases, disrupted lung development are likely mechanisms for the respiratory disease.