Broad phenotype of cysteine-altering NOTCH3 variants in UK Biobank: CADASIL to nonpenetrance

Neurology. 2020 Sep 29;95(13):e1835-e1843. doi: 10.1212/WNL.0000000000010525. Epub 2020 Jul 30.


Objective: To determine the small vessel disease spectrum associated with cysteine-altering NOTCH3 variants in community-dwelling individuals by analyzing the clinical and neuroimaging features of UK Biobank participants harboring such variants.

Methods: The exome and genome sequencing datasets of the UK Biobank (n = 50,000) and cohorts of cognitively healthy elderly (n = 751) were queried for cysteine-altering NOTCH3 variants. Brain MRIs of individuals harboring such variants were scored according to Standards for Reporting Vascular Changes on Neuroimaging criteria, and clinical information was extracted with ICD-10 codes. Clinical and neuroimaging data were compared to age- and sex-matched UK Biobank controls and clinically diagnosed patients from the Dutch cerebral autosomal dominant arteriopathy with subcortical infarcts and leukoencephalopathy (CADASIL) registry.

Results: We identified 108 individuals harboring a cysteine-altering NOTCH3 variant (2.2 of 1,000), of whom 75% have a variant that has previously been reported in CADASIL pedigrees. Almost all variants were located in 1 of the NOTCH3 protein epidermal growth factor-like repeat domains 7 to 34. White matter hyperintensity lesion load was higher in individuals with NOTCH3 variants than in controls (p = 0.006) but lower than in patients with CADASIL with the same variants (p < 0.001). Almost half of the 24 individuals with brain MRI had a Fazekas score of 0 or 1 up to age 70 years. There was no increased risk of stroke.

Conclusions: Although community-dwelling individuals harboring a cysteine-altering NOTCH3 variant have a higher small vessel disease MRI burden than controls, almost half have no MRI abnormalities up to age 70 years. This shows that NOTCH3 cysteine altering variants are associated with an extremely broad phenotypic spectrum, ranging from CADASIL to nonpenetrance.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Biological Specimen Banks
  • Brain / pathology
  • CADASIL / genetics*
  • CADASIL / pathology
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Cysteine / metabolism
  • Ethnicity / genetics
  • Female
  • Genotype
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Mutation
  • Netherlands
  • Neuroimaging
  • Penetrance
  • Receptor, Notch3 / genetics*
  • Registries / statistics & numerical data*
  • United Kingdom
  • White Matter / pathology


  • NOTCH3 protein, human
  • Receptor, Notch3
  • Cysteine