RAC1 is a widely studied Rho GTPase, a class of molecules that modulate numerous cellular functions essential for normal development. RAC1 is highly conserved across species and is under strict mutational constraint. We report seven individuals with distinct de novo missense RAC1 mutations and varying degrees of developmental delay, brain malformations, and additional phenotypes. Four individuals, each harboring one of c.53G>A (p.Cys18Tyr), c.116A>G (p.Asn39Ser), c.218C>T (p.Pro73Leu), and c.470G>A (p.Cys157Tyr) variants, were microcephalic, with head circumferences between -2.5 to -5 SD. In contrast, two individuals with c.151G>A (p.Val51Met) and c.151G>C (p.Val51Leu) alleles were macrocephalic with head circumferences of +4.16 and +4.5 SD. One individual harboring a c.190T>G (p.Tyr64Asp) allele had head circumference in the normal range. Collectively, we observed an extraordinary spread of ∼10 SD of head circumferences orchestrated by distinct mutations in the same gene. In silico modeling, mouse fibroblasts spreading assays, and in vivo overexpression assays using zebrafish as a surrogate model demonstrated that the p.Cys18Tyr and p.Asn39Ser RAC1 variants function as dominant-negative alleles and result in microcephaly, reduced neuronal proliferation, and cerebellar abnormalities in vivo. Conversely, the p.Tyr64Asp substitution is constitutively active. The remaining mutations are probably weakly dominant negative or their effects are context dependent. These findings highlight the importance of RAC1 in neuronal development. Along with TRIO and HACE1, a sub-category of rare developmental disorders is emerging with RAC1 as the central player. We show that ultra-rare disorders caused by private, non-recurrent missense mutations that result in varying phenotypes are challenging to dissect, but can be delineated through focused international collaboration.
Keywords: HACE1; RAC1; Rho GTPase; TRIO; cerebellar abnormalities; developmental disorders; intellectual disability; macrocephaly; microcephaly; neuronal proliferation.
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