Genetic and phenotypic characterization of NKX6-2-related spastic ataxia and hypomyelination

Eur J Neurol. 2020 Feb;27(2):334-342. doi: 10.1111/ene.14082. Epub 2019 Oct 17.


Background and purpose: Hypomyelinating leukodystrophies are a heterogeneous group of genetic disorders with a wide spectrum of phenotypes and a high rate of genetically unsolved cases. Bi-allelic mutations in NKX6-2 were recently linked to spastic ataxia 8 with hypomyelinating leukodystrophy.

Methods: Using a combination of homozygosity mapping, exome sequencing, and detailed clinical and neuroimaging assessment a series of new NKX6-2 mutations in a multicentre setting is described. Then, all reported NKX6-2 mutations and those identified in this study were combined and an in-depth analysis of NKX6-2-related disease spectrum was provided.

Results: Eleven new cases from eight families of different ethnic backgrounds carrying compound heterozygous and homozygous pathogenic variants in NKX6-2 were identified, evidencing a high NKX6-2 mutation burden in the hypomyelinating leukodystrophy disease spectrum. Our data reveal a phenotype spectrum with neonatal onset, global psychomotor delay and worse prognosis at the severe end and a childhood onset with mainly motor phenotype at the milder end. The phenotypic and neuroimaging expression in NKX6-2 is described and it is shown that phenotypes with epilepsy in the absence of overt hypomyelination and diffuse hypomyelination without seizures can occur.

Conclusions: NKX6-2 mutations should be considered in patients with autosomal recessive, very early onset of nystagmus, cerebellar ataxia with hypotonia that rapidly progresses to spasticity, particularly when associated with neuroimaging signs of hypomyelination. Therefore, it is recommended that NXK6-2 should be included in hypomyelinating leukodystrophy and spastic ataxia diagnostic panels.

Keywords: NKX6-2; SPAX8; hypomyelination; leukodystrophy; spastic ataxia 8.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Homeodomain Proteins
  • Humans
  • Intellectual Disability*
  • Muscle Spasticity*
  • Mutation
  • Optic Atrophy*
  • Phenotype
  • Spinocerebellar Ataxias*


  • Homeodomain Proteins
  • NKX6-2 protein, human

Supplementary concepts

  • Spastic Ataxia