Vesicular acetylcholine transporter defect underlies devastating congenital myasthenia syndrome

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To identify the genetic basis of a recessive congenital neurologic syndrome characterized by severe hypotonia, arthrogryposis, and respiratory failure.


Identification of the responsible gene by exome sequencing and assessment of the effect of the mutation on protein stability in transfected rat neuronal-like PC12A123.7 cells.


Two brothers from a nonconsanguineous Yemeni Jewish family manifested at birth with severe hypotonia and arthrogryposis. The older brother died of respiratory failure at 5 days of age. The proband, now 4.5 years old, has been mechanically ventilated since birth with virtually no milestones achievement. Whole exome sequencing revealed homozygosity of SLC18A3 c.1078G>C, p.Gly360Arg in the affected brothers but not in other family members. SLC18A3 p.Gly360Arg is not reported in world populations but is present at a carrier frequency of 1:30 in healthy Yemeni Jews. SLC18A3 encodes the vesicular acetylcholine transporter (VAChT), which loads newly synthesized acetylcholine from the neuronal cytoplasm into synaptic vesicles. Mice that are VAChT-null have been shown to die at birth of respiratory failure. In human VAChT, residue 360 is located in a conserved region and substitution of arginine for glycine is predicted to disrupt proper protein folding and membrane embedding. Stable transfection of wild-type and mutant human VAChT into neuronal-like PC12A123.7 cells revealed similar mRNA levels, but undetectable levels of the mutant protein, suggesting post-translational degradation of mutant VAChT.


Loss of function of VAChT underlies severe arthrogryposis and respiratory failure. While most congenital myasthenic syndromes are caused by defects in postsynaptic proteins, VAChT deficiency is a presynaptic myasthenic syndrome.

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