A pathogenic HEXA missense variant in wild boars with Tay-Sachs disease

Mol Genet Metab. 2021 Jul;133(3):297-306. doi: 10.1016/j.ymgme.2021.05.001. Epub 2021 May 7.


Gangliosidoses are inherited lysosomal storage disorders caused by reduced or absent activity of either a lysosomal enzyme involved in ganglioside catabolism, or an activator protein required for the proper activity of a ganglioside hydrolase, which results in the intra-lysosomal accumulation of undegraded metabolites. We hereby describe morphological, ultrastructural, biochemical and genetic features of GM2 gangliosidosis in three captive bred wild boar littermates. The piglets were kept in a partially-free range farm and presented progressive neurological signs, starting at 6 months of age. Animals were euthanized at approximately one year of age due to their poor conditions. Neuropathogens were excluded as a possible cause of the signs. Gross examination showed a reduction of cerebral and cerebellar consistency. Central (CNS) and peripheral (PNS) nervous system neurons were enlarged and foamy, with severe and diffuse cytoplasmic vacuolization. Transmission electron microscopy (TEM) of CNS neurons demonstrated numerous lysosomes, filled by parallel or concentric layers of membranous electron-dense material, defined as membranous cytoplasmic bodies (MCB). Biochemical composition of gangliosides analysis from CNS revealed accumulation of GM2 ganglioside; furthermore, Hex A enzyme activity was less than 1% compared to control animals. These data confirmed the diagnosis of GM2 gangliosidosis. Genetic analysis identified, at a homozygous level, the presence of a missense nucleotide variant c.1495C > T (p Arg499Cys) in the hexosaminidase subunit alpha gene (HEXA), located within the GH20 hexosaminidase superfamily domain of the encoded protein. This specific HEXA variant is known to be pathogenic and associated with Tay-Sachs disease in humans, but has never been identified in other animal species. This is the first report of a HEXA gene associated Tay-Sachs disease in wild boars and provides a comprehensive description of a novel spontaneous animal model for this lysosomal storage disease.

Keywords: GM2; HEXA; Lysosomal storage disease; Swine; Tay-Sachs disease; Whole-genome sequencing; Wild boar.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cerebellum / pathology
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Female
  • Gangliosidoses, GM2 / metabolism
  • Genetic Variation*
  • Hexosaminidase A / genetics*
  • Hexosaminidase A / metabolism
  • Male
  • Mutation, Missense*
  • Sus scrofa / genetics*
  • Tay-Sachs Disease / genetics*
  • Tay-Sachs Disease / pathology
  • Tay-Sachs Disease / physiopathology*
  • Whole Genome Sequencing


  • Hexosaminidase A