A homozygous missense variant in CACNB4 encoding the auxiliary calcium channel beta4 subunit causes a severe neurodevelopmental disorder and impairs channel and non-channel functions

PLoS Genet. 2020 Mar 16;16(3):e1008625. doi: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1008625. eCollection 2020 Mar.


P/Q-type channels are the principal presynaptic calcium channels in brain functioning in neurotransmitter release. They are composed of the pore-forming CaV2.1 α1 subunit and the auxiliary α2δ-2 and β4 subunits. β4 is encoded by CACNB4, and its multiple splice variants serve isoform-specific functions as channel subunits and transcriptional regulators in the nucleus. In two siblings with intellectual disability, psychomotor retardation, blindness, epilepsy, movement disorder and cerebellar atrophy we identified rare homozygous variants in the genes LTBP1, EMILIN1, CACNB4, MINAR1, DHX38 and MYO15 by whole-exome sequencing. In silico tools, animal model, clinical, and genetic data suggest the p.(Leu126Pro) CACNB4 variant to be likely pathogenic. To investigate the functional consequences of the CACNB4 variant, we introduced the corresponding mutation L125P into rat β4b cDNA. Heterologously expressed wild-type β4b associated with GFP-CaV1.2 and accumulated in presynaptic boutons of cultured hippocampal neurons. In contrast, the β4b-L125P mutant failed to incorporate into calcium channel complexes and to cluster presynaptically. When co-expressed with CaV2.1 in tsA201 cells, β4b and β4b-L125P augmented the calcium current amplitudes, however, β4b-L125P failed to stably complex with α1 subunits. These results indicate that p.Leu125Pro disrupts the stable association of β4b with native calcium channel complexes, whereas membrane incorporation, modulation of current density and activation properties of heterologously expressed channels remained intact. Wildtype β4b was specifically targeted to the nuclei of quiescent excitatory cells. Importantly, the p.Leu125Pro mutation abolished nuclear targeting of β4b in cultured myotubes and hippocampal neurons. While binding of β4b to the known interaction partner PPP2R5D (B56δ) was not affected by the mutation, complex formation between β4b-L125P and the neuronal TRAF2 and NCK interacting kinase (TNIK) seemed to be disturbed. In summary, our data suggest that the homozygous CACNB4 p.(Leu126Pro) variant underlies the severe neurological phenotype in the two siblings, most likely by impairing both channel and non-channel functions of β4b.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Calcium / metabolism
  • Calcium Channels / genetics*
  • Calcium Channels, N-Type / genetics
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Regulation / genetics
  • HEK293 Cells
  • Hippocampus / physiology
  • Homozygote
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mice, Inbred BALB C
  • Mutation, Missense / genetics*
  • Neurodevelopmental Disorders / genetics*
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Presynaptic Terminals / physiology
  • Protein Isoforms / genetics
  • Protein Subunits / genetics*
  • Rats
  • Synaptic Transmission / genetics


  • CACNB4 protein, human
  • Calcium Channels
  • Calcium Channels, N-Type
  • Protein Isoforms
  • Protein Subunits
  • voltage-dependent calcium channel (P-Q type)
  • Calcium

Grant support

This study was supported by a grant from the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (KU 1240/6-2) to KK, and grants from the Austrian Science Fund (FWF) T855 to MC, F4415 to GJO, and P30402 and W1101 to BEF. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.