GALC variants affect galactosylceramidase enzymatic activity and risk of Parkinson's disease

Brain. 2023 May 2;146(5):1859-1872. doi: 10.1093/brain/awac413.


The association between glucocerebrosidase, encoded by GBA, and Parkinson's disease (PD) highlights the role of the lysosome in PD pathogenesis. Genome-wide association studies in PD have revealed multiple associated loci, including the GALC locus on chromosome 14. GALC encodes the lysosomal enzyme galactosylceramidase, which plays a pivotal role in the glycosphingolipid metabolism pathway. It is still unclear whether GALC is the gene driving the association in the chromosome 14 locus and, if so, by which mechanism. We first aimed to examine whether variants in the GALC locus and across the genome are associated with galactosylceramidase activity. We performed a genome-wide association study in two independent cohorts from (i) Columbia University; and (ii) the Parkinson's Progression Markers Initiative study, followed by a meta-analysis with a total of 976 PD patients and 478 controls with available data on galactosylceramidase activity. We further analysed the effects of common GALC variants on expression and galactosylceramidase activity using genomic colocalization methods. Mendelian randomization was used to study whether galactosylceramidase activity may be causal in PD. To study the role of rare GALC variants, we analysed sequencing data from 5028 PD patients and 5422 controls. Additionally, we studied the functional impact of GALC knockout on alpha-synuclein accumulation and on glucocerebrosidase activity in neuronal cell models and performed in silico structural analysis of common GALC variants associated with altered galactosylceramidase activity. The top hit in PD genome-wide association study in the GALC locus, rs979812, is associated with increased galactosylceramidase activity (b = 1.2; SE = 0.06; P = 5.10 × 10-95). No other variants outside the GALC locus were associated with galactosylceramidase activity. Colocalization analysis demonstrated that rs979812 was also associated with increased galactosylceramidase expression. Mendelian randomization suggested that increased galactosylceramidase activity may be causally associated with PD (b = 0.025, SE = 0.007, P = 0.0008). We did not find an association between rare GALC variants and PD. GALC knockout using CRISPR-Cas9 did not lead to alpha-synuclein accumulation, further supporting that increased rather than reduced galactosylceramidase levels may be associated with PD. The structural analysis demonstrated that the common variant p.I562T may lead to improper maturation of galactosylceramidase affecting its activity. Our results nominate GALC as the gene associated with PD in this locus and suggest that the association of variants in the GALC locus may be driven by their effect of increasing galactosylceramidase expression and activity. Whether altering galactosylceramidase activity could be considered as a therapeutic target should be further studied.

Keywords: GBA1; Parkinson’s disease; galactosylceramidase; genome-wide association study; sphingolipid pathway.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Galactosylceramidase / genetics
  • Galactosylceramidase / metabolism
  • Genome-Wide Association Study
  • Glucosylceramidase / genetics
  • Humans
  • Hydrolases / genetics
  • Mutation
  • Parkinson Disease* / metabolism
  • alpha-Synuclein / metabolism


  • alpha-Synuclein
  • Galactosylceramidase
  • Glucosylceramidase
  • Hydrolases