A GGC-repeat expansion in ZFHX3 encoding polyglycine causes spinocerebellar ataxia type 4 and impairs autophagy

Nat Genet. 2024 Jun;56(6):1080-1089. doi: 10.1038/s41588-024-01719-5. Epub 2024 Apr 29.


Despite linkage to chromosome 16q in 1996, the mutation causing spinocerebellar ataxia type 4 (SCA4), a late-onset sensory and cerebellar ataxia, remained unknown. Here, using long-read single-strand whole-genome sequencing (LR-GS), we identified a heterozygous GGC-repeat expansion in a large Utah pedigree encoding polyglycine (polyG) in zinc finger homeobox protein 3 (ZFHX3), also known as AT-binding transcription factor 1 (ATBF1). We queried 6,495 genome sequencing datasets and identified the repeat expansion in seven additional pedigrees. Ultrarare DNA variants near the repeat expansion indicate a common distant founder event in Sweden. Intranuclear ZFHX3-p62-ubiquitin aggregates were abundant in SCA4 basis pontis neurons. In fibroblasts and induced pluripotent stem cells, the GGC expansion led to increased ZFHX3 protein levels and abnormal autophagy, which were normalized with small interfering RNA-mediated ZFHX3 knockdown in both cell types. Improving autophagy points to a therapeutic avenue for this novel polyG disease. The coding GGC-repeat expansion in an extremely G+C-rich region was not detectable by short-read whole-exome sequencing, which demonstrates the power of LR-GS for variant discovery.

MeSH terms

  • Autophagy* / genetics
  • Female
  • Homeodomain Proteins* / genetics
  • Humans
  • Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells / metabolism
  • Male
  • Pedigree*
  • Spinocerebellar Ataxias* / genetics
  • Trinucleotide Repeat Expansion* / genetics


  • Homeodomain Proteins