Pathogenic variants in NUBPL result in failure to assemble the matrix arm of complex I and cause a complex leukoencephalopathy with thalamic involvement.

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Molecular genetics and metabolism


Disorders of the white matter are genetically very heterogeneous including several genes involved in mitochondrial bioenergetics. Diagnosis of the underlying cause is aided by pattern recognition on neuroimaging and by next-generation sequencing. Recently, genetic changes in the complex I assembly factor NUBPL have been characterized by a consistent recognizable pattern of leukoencephalopathy affecting deep white matter including the corpus callosum and cerebellum. Here, we report twin boys with biallelic variants in NUBPL, an unreported c.351 G > A; p.(Met117Ile) and a previously reported pathological variant c. 693 + 1 G > A. Brain magnetic resonance imaging showed abnormal T2 hyperintense signal involving the periventricular white matter, external capsule, corpus callosum, and, prominently, the bilateral thalami. The neuroimaging pattern evolved over 18 months with marked diffuse white matter signal abnormality, volume loss, and new areas of signal abnormality in the cerebellar folia and vermis. Magnetic resonance spectroscopy showed elevated lactate. Functional studies in cultured fibroblasts confirmed pathogenicity of the genetic variants. Complex I activity of the respiratory chain was deficient spectrophotometrically and on blue native gel with in-gel activity staining. There was absent assembly and loss of proteins of the matrix arm of complex I when traced with an antibody to NDUFS2, and incomplete assembly of the membrane arm when traced with an NDUFB6 antibody. There was decreased NUBPL protein on Western blot in patient fibroblasts compared to controls. Compromised NUBPL activity impairs assembly of the matrix arm of complex I and produces a severe, rapidly-progressive leukoencephalopathy with thalamic involvement on MRI, further expanding the neuroimaging phenotype.

Clinical Institute

Neurosciences (Brain & Spine)




Pathology & Laboratory Medicine