γ-secretase is an intramembrane protease complex that catalyzes the proteolytic cleavage of amyloid precursor protein and Notch. Impaired γ-secretase function is associated with the development of Alzheimer's disease and familial acne inversa in humans. In a forward genetic screen of mice with N-ethyl-N-nitrosourea-induced mutations for defects in adaptive immunity, we identified animals within a single pedigree exhibiting both hypopigmentation of the fur and diminished T cell-independent (TI) antibody responses. The causative mutation was in Ncstn, an essential gene encoding the protein nicastrin (NCSTN), a member of the γ-secretase complex that functions to recruit substrates for proteolysis. The missense mutation severely limits the glycosylation of NCSTN to its mature form and impairs the integrity of the γ-secretase complex as well as its catalytic activity toward its substrate Notch, a critical regulator of B cell and T cell development. Strikingly, however, this missense mutation affects B cell development but not thymocyte or T cell development. The Ncstn allele uncovered in these studies reveals an essential requirement for NCSTN during the type 2 transitional-marginal zone precursor stage and peritoneal B-1 B cell development, the TI antibody response, fur pigmentation, and intestinal homeostasis in mice.
Keywords: B-1 B cells; T cell-independent antibody response; marginal zone B cells; nicastrin.