Dysfunctional Homozygous VRK1-D263G Variant Impairs the Assembly of Cajal Bodies and DNA Damage Response in Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia

Neurol Genet. 2021 Sep 2;7(5):e624. doi: 10.1212/NXG.0000000000000624. eCollection 2021 Oct.


Background and objectives: To conduct a genetic and molecular functional study of a family with members affected of hereditary spastic paraplegia (HSP) of unknown origin and carrying a novel pathogenic vaccinia-related kinase 1 (VRK1) variant.

Methods: Whole-exome sequencing was performed in 2 patients, and their parents diagnosed with HSP. The novel VRK1 variant was detected by whole-exome sequencing, molecularly modeled and biochemically characterized in kinase assays. Functionally, we studied the role of this VRK1 variant in DNA damage response and its effect on the assembly of Cajal bodies (CBs).

Results: We have identified a very rare homozygous variant VRK1-D263G with a neurologic phenotype associated with HSP and moderate intellectual disability. The molecular modeling of this VRK1 variant protein predicted an alteration in the folding of a loop that interferes with the access to the kinase catalytic site. The VRK1-D263G variant is kinase inactive and does not phosphorylate histones H2AX and H3, transcription factors activating transcription factor 2 and p53, coilin needed for assembly of CBs, and p53 binding protein 1, a DNA repair protein. Functionally, this VRK1 variant protein impairs CB formation and the DNA damage response.

Discussion: This report expands the neurologic spectrum of neuromotor syndromes associated with a new and rare VRK1 variant, representing a novel pathogenic participant in complicated HSP and demonstrates that CBs and the DNA damage response are impaired in these patients.