Bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, autism and intellectual disability are complex neurodevelopmental disorders, debilitating millions of people. Therapeutic progress is limited by poor understanding of underlying molecular pathways. Using a targeted search, we identified an enrichment of de novo mutations in the gene encoding the 330-kDa triple functional domain (TRIO) protein associated with neurodevelopmental disorders. By generating multiple TRIO antibodies, we show that the smaller TRIO9 isoform is the major brain protein product, and its levels decrease after birth. TRIO9 contains two guanine nucleotide exchange factor (GEF) domains with distinct specificities: GEF1 activates both Rac1 and RhoG; GEF2 activates RhoA. To understand the impact of disease-associated de novo mutations and other rare sequence variants on TRIO function, we utilized two FRET-based biosensors: a Rac1 biosensor to study mutations in TRIO (T)GEF1, and a RhoA biosensor to study mutations in TGEF2. We discovered that one autism-associated de novo mutation in TGEF1 (K1431M), at the TGEF1/Rac1 interface, markedly decreased its overall activity toward Rac1. A schizophrenia-associated rare sequence variant in TGEF1 (F1538Intron) was substantially less active, normalized to protein level and expressed poorly. Overall, mutations in TGEF1 decreased GEF1 activity toward Rac1. One bipolar disorder-associated rare variant (M2145T) in TGEF2 impaired inhibition by the TGEF2 pleckstrin-homology domain, resulting in dramatically increased TGEF2 activity. Overall, genetic damage to both TGEF domains altered TRIO catalytic activity, decreasing TGEF1 activity and increasing TGEF2 activity. Importantly, both GEF changes are expected to decrease neurite outgrowth, perhaps consistent with their association with neurodevelopmental disorders.
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