Microphthalmia, coloboma and cataract are part of a spectrum of developmental eye disorders in humans affecting ~12 per 100 000 live births. Currently, variants in over 100 genes are known to underlie these conditions. However, at least 40% of affected individuals remain without a clinical genetic diagnosis, suggesting variants in additional genes may be responsible. Calpain 15 (CAPN15) is an intracellular cysteine protease belonging to the non-classical small optic lobe (SOL) family of calpains, an important class of developmental proteins, as yet uncharacterized in vertebrates. We identified five individuals with microphthalmia and/or coloboma from four independent families carrying homozygous or compound heterozygous predicted damaging variants in CAPN15. Several individuals had additional phenotypes including growth deficits, developmental delay and hearing loss. We generated Capn15 knockout mice that exhibited similar severe developmental eye defects, including anophthalmia, microphthalmia and cataract, and diminished growth. We demonstrate widespread Capn15 expression throughout the brain and central nervous system, strongest during early development, and decreasing postnatally. Together, these findings demonstrate a critical role of CAPN15 in vertebrate developmental eye disorders, and may signify a new developmental pathway.
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