Background: L-serine plays an essential role in neuronal development and function. Although a non-essential amino acid, L-serine must be synthesised within the brain because of its poor permeability by the blood-brain barrier. Within the brain, its synthesis is confined to astrocytes, and its shuttle to neuronal cells is performed by a dedicated neutral amino acid transporter, ASCT1.
Methods and results: Using exome analysis we identified the recessive mutations, p.E256K, p.L315fs, and p.R457W, in SLC1A4, the gene encoding ASCT1, in patients with developmental delay, microcephaly and hypomyelination; seizure disorder was variably present. When expressed in a heterologous system, the mutations did not affect the protein level at the plasma membrane but abolished or markedly reduced L-serine transport for p.R457W and p.E256K mutations, respectively. Interestingly, p.E256K mutation displayed a lower L-serine and alanine affinity but the same substrate selectivity as wild-type ASCT1.
Conclusions: The clinical phenotype of ASCT1 deficiency is reminiscent of defects in L-serine biosynthesis. The data underscore that ASCT1 is essential in brain serine transport. The SLC1A4 p.E256K mutation has a carrier frequency of 0.7% in the Ashkenazi-Jewish population and should be added to the carrier screening panel in this community.
Keywords: Molecular genetics; Neurology.
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