Ornithine transcarbamylase deficiency (OTCD) is an X-linked inborn error caused by loss of function variants in the OTC gene typically associated with severe neonatal hyperammonemia. Rare examples of late-onset OTCD have also been described. Here, we describe an OTC promoter variant, c.-106C>A, in a conserved HNF4a binding site, identified in two male siblings in Family 1 whose first and only recognized episodes of severe hyperammonemia occurred at ages 14 and 39 years, respectively. We identified the same OTC variant segregating in a large family with late-onset OTCD with variable expressivity (Family 2). We show that this OTC promoter variant reduces expression >5-fold in a dual-luciferase assay that tests promoter function. Addition of an upstream OTC enhancer increases expression of both the wild type and the c.-106C>A variant promoter constructs >5-fold with the mutant promoter still about fourfold lower than the wild type. Thus, in both contexts, the promoter variant results in substantially lower OTC expression. Under normal demand on urea cycle function, OTC expression in hemizygous males, although reduced, is sufficient to meet the demand for waste nitrogen excretion. However, in response to severe metabolic stress with attendant increased requirements on urea cycle function, the impaired promoter function results in inadequate OTC expression with resultant hyperammonemia. In the absence of precipitating events, hemizygotes with this allele are asymptomatic, explaining the late age of onset of hyperammonemia in affected individuals and the incomplete penetrance observed in some individuals in Family 2.
Keywords: OTC deficiency; late onset; noncoding DNA; promoter variant; regulatory DNA sequence.
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