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Recessive primary congenital lymphoedema caused by a VEGFR3 mutation
  1. A Ghalamkarpour1,
  2. W Holnthoner2,
  3. P Saharinen2,
  4. L M Boon1,3,
  5. J B Mulliken4,
  6. K Alitalo2,
  7. M Vikkula1
  1. 1
    Laboratory of Human Molecular Genetics, de Duve Institute, Université catholique de Louvain, Brussels, Belgium
  2. 2
    Molecular/Cancer Biology Laboratory and Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research, Biomedicum Helsinki, Haartman Institute and Helsinki University Central Hospital, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland
  3. 3
    Center for Vascular Anomalies, Division of Plastic Surgery, Cliniques Universitaires Saint-Luc and Université catholique de Louvain, Brussels, Belgium
  4. 4
    Vascular Anomalies Center, Department of Plastic Surgery, Children’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
  1. Professor M Vikkula, Laboratory of Human Molecular Genetics (BCHM-GEHU), de Duve Institute, Université catholique de Louvain, Avenue Hippocrate 74(+5), Brussels B-1200, Belgium; miikka.vikkula{at}


Background: Heterozygous mutations in VEGFR3 have been identified in some familial cases with dominantly inherited primary congenital lymphoedema, known as Nonne–Milroy disease. Recessive cases of primary lymphoedema with a genetic cause are not known, except for two families with syndromic hypotrichosis–lymphoedema–telangiectasia, with a SOX18 mutation.

Methods and results: In this study, we present the first case of isolated primary congenital lymphoedema with recessive inheritance, caused by a homozygous mutation in VEGFR3. The novel mutation is a transition from alanine-to-threonine in amino acid 855, located in the ATP binding domain of the VEGFR3 receptor. Assessment of receptor function showed impaired ligand induced internalisation and ERK1/2 activity. Moreover, receptor phosphorylation was reduced, although less so than for a kinase-dead VEGFR3 mutation, which causes Nonne–Milroy disease.

Conclusion: A hypomorphic VEGFR3 mutation, with moderate effect on receptor function, in a homozygous state can result in insufficient lymphatic functioning. Thus, in addition to Nonne–Milroy disease with dominant inheritance, VEGFR3 alterations can cause isolated recessive primary congenital lymphoedema. These data expand our understanding of the aetiology of congenital lymphoedema and suggest that large scale screening of VEGFR3 in all primary lymphoedema patients is necessary.

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  • AG and WH contributed equally to this work.

  • Funding: This study was supported by the Interuniversity Attraction Poles initiated by the Belgian Federal Science Policy, network 5/25 and 6/05, EU FW6 Integrated Project Lymphangiogenomics LSHG-CT-2004-503573, the Actions de Recherche Concertées – Communauté Française de Belgique 02/07-276 and 07/12-005, and the FNRS (Fonds national de la recherche scientifique) to MV, a Maìtre de Recherches du FNRS.

  • Competing interests: None.

  • Patient consent: Obtained.