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Original research
Genetic evidence for splicing-dependent structural and functional plasticity in CASK protein


Background Pontocerebellar hypoplasia (PCH) may present with supratentorial phenotypes and is often accompanied by microcephaly. Damaging mutations in the X-linked gene CASK produce self-limiting microcephaly with PCH in females but are often lethal in males. CASK deficiency leads to early degeneration of cerebellar granule cells but its role in other regions of the brain remains uncertain.

Method We generated a conditional Cask knockout mice and deleted Cask ubiquitously after birth at different times. We examined the clinical features in several subjects with damaging mutations clustered in the central part of the CASK protein. We have performed phylogenetic analysis and RT-PCR to assess the splicing pattern within the same protein region and performed in silico structural analysis to examine the effect of splicing on the CASK’s structure.

Result We demonstrate that deletion of murine Cask after adulthood does not affect survival but leads to cerebellar degeneration and ataxia over time. Intriguingly, damaging hemizygous CASK mutations in boys who display microcephaly and cerebral dysfunction but without PCH are known. These mutations are present in two vertebrate-specific CASK exons. These exons are subject to alternative splicing both in forebrain and hindbrain. Inclusion of these exons differentially affects the molecular structure and hence possibly the function/s of the CASK C-terminus.

Conclusion Loss of CASK function disproportionately affects the cerebellum. Clinical data, however, suggest that CASK may have additional vertebrate-specific function/s that play a role in the mammalian forebrain. Thus, CASK has an ancient function shared between invertebrates and vertebrates as well as novel vertebrate-specific function/s.

  • Biological Evolution
  • Genetic Diseases, Inborn
  • Genetic Diseases, X-Linked
  • Genetics, Medical
  • Human Genetics

Data availability statement

Data are available upon reasonable request.

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