Nonsense pathogenic variants in exon 1 of PHOX2B lead to translational reinitiation in congenital central hypoventilation syndrome.
Pathogenic variants in PHOX2B lead to congenital central hypoventilation syndrome (CCHS), a rare disorder of the nervous system characterized by autonomic dysregulation and hypoventilation typically presenting in the neonatal period, although a milder late-onset (LO) presentation has been reported. More than 90% of cases are caused by polyalanine repeat mutations (PARMs) in the C-terminus of the protein; however non-polyalanine repeat mutations (NPARMs) have been reported. Most NPARMs are located in exon 3 of PHOX2B and result in a more severe clinical presentation including Hirschsprung disease (HSCR) and/or peripheral neuroblastic tumors (PNTs). A previously reported nonsense pathogenic variant in exon 1 of a patient with LO-CCHS and no HSCR or PNTs leads to translational reinitiation at a downstream AUG codon producing an N-terminally truncated protein. Here we report additional individuals with nonsense pathogenic variants in exon 1 of PHOX2B. In vitro analyses were used to determine if these and other reported nonsense variants in PHOX2B exon 1 produced N-terminally truncated proteins. We found that all tested nonsense variants in PHOX2B exon 1 produced a truncated protein of the same size. This truncated protein localized to the nucleus and transactivated a target promoter. These data suggest that nonsense pathogenic variants in the first exon of PHOX2B likely escape nonsense mediated decay (NMD) and produce N-terminally truncated proteins functionally distinct from those produced by the more common PARMs.