ATP5PO levels regulate enteric nervous system development in zebrafish, linking Hirschsprung disease to Down Syndrome

Biochim Biophys Acta Mol Basis Dis. 2024 Mar;1870(3):166991. doi: 10.1016/j.bbadis.2023.166991. Epub 2023 Dec 20.


Hirschsprung disease (HSCR) is a complex genetic disorder characterized by the absence of enteric nervous system (ENS) in the distal region of the intestine. Down Syndrome (DS) patients have a >50-fold higher risk of developing HSCR than the general population, suggesting that overexpression of human chromosome 21 (Hsa21) genes contribute to HSCR etiology. However, identification of responsible genes remains challenging. Here, we describe a genetic screening of potential candidate genes located on Hsa21, using the zebrafish. Candidate genes were located in the DS-HSCR susceptibility region, expressed in the human intestine, were known potential biomarkers for DS prenatal diagnosis, and were present in the zebrafish genome. With this approach, four genes were selected: RCAN1, ITSN1, ATP5PO and SUMO3. However, only overexpression of ATP5PO, coding for a component of the mitochondrial ATPase, led to significant reduction of ENS cells. Paradoxically, in vitro studies showed that overexpression of ATP5PO led to a reduction of ATP5PO protein levels. Impaired neuronal differentiation and reduced mitochondrial ATP production, were also detected in vitro, after overexpression of ATP5PO in a neuroblastoma cell line. Finally, epistasis was observed between ATP5PO and ret, the most important HSCR gene. Taken together, our results identify ATP5PO as the gene responsible for the increased risk of HSCR in DS patients in particular if RET variants are also present, and show that a balanced expression of ATP5PO is required for normal ENS development.

Keywords: ATP production; ATP5PO; Down Syndrome; Hirschsprung disease; Neuronal differentiation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomarkers / metabolism
  • Down Syndrome* / genetics
  • Down Syndrome* / metabolism
  • Enteric Nervous System* / metabolism
  • Hirschsprung Disease* / genetics
  • Hirschsprung Disease* / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Zebrafish / genetics


  • Biomarkers