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Inability to move one's face dampens facial expression perception.
Japee S, Jordan J, Licht J, Lokey S; Moebius Syndrome Research Consortium; Chen G, Snow J, Jabs EW, Webb BD, Engle EC, Manoli I, Baker C, Ungerleider LG.

Humans rely heavily on facial expressions for social communication to convey their thoughts and emotions and to understand them in others. One prominent but controversial view is that humans learn to recognize the significance of facial expressions by mimicking the expressions of others. This view predicts that an inability to make facial expressions (e.g., facial paralysis) would result in reduced perceptual sensitivity to others' facial expressions. To test this hypothesis, we developed a diverse battery of sensitive emotion recognition tasks to characterize expression perception in individuals with Moebius Syndrome (MBS), a congenital neurological disorder that causes facial palsy. Using computer-based detection tasks we systematically assessed expression perception thresholds for static and dynamic face and body expressions. We found that while MBS individuals were able to perform challenging perceptual control tasks and body expression tasks, they were less efficient at extracting emotion from facial expressions, compared to matched controls. Exploratory analyses of fMRI data from a small group of MBS participants suggested potentially reduced engagement of the amygdala in MBS participants during expression processing relative to matched controls. Collectively, these results suggest a role for facial mimicry and consequent facial feedback and motor experience in the perception of others' facial expressions.

Monozygotic twins discordant for a congenital cranial dysinnervation disorder with features of Moebius syndrome

Gates RW, Webb BD, Stevenson DA, Jabs EW, DeFilippo C, Ruzhnikov MRZ, Tise CG.

Moebius syndrome is a congenital cranial dysinnervation disorder (CCDD) that presents with nonprogressive cranial nerve (CN) VI and VII palsies resulting in facial weakness and inability to abduct the eye(s). While many CCDDs have an underlying genetic cause, the etiology of Moebius syndrome remains unclear as most cases are sporadic. Here, we describe a pair of monochorionic, diamniotic twin girls; one with normal growth and development, and one with micrognathia, reduced facial expression, and poor feeding. Magnetic resonance imaging of the brain performed on the affected twin at 19 months of age showed severely hypoplastic or absent CN IV bilaterally, left CN VI smaller than right, and bilateral hypoplastic CN VII and IX, consistent with a diagnosis of a CCDD, most similar to that of Moebius syndrome. Genomic sequencing was performed on each twin and data was assessed for discordant variants, as well as variants in novel and CCDD-associated genes. No pathogenic, likely pathogenic, or variants of uncertain significance were identified in genes known to be associated with CCDDs or other congenital facial weakness conditions. This family provides further evidence in favor of a stochastic event as the etiology in Moebius syndrome, rather than a monogenic condition.

Noncoding variants alter GATA2 expression in rhombomere 4 motor neurons and cause dominant hereditary congenital facial paresis

Tenney AP, Di Gioia SA, Webb BD, Chan WM, de Boer E, Garnai SJ, Barry BJ, Ray T, Kosicki M, Robson CD, Zhang Z, Collins TE, Gelber A, Pratt BM, Fujiwara Y, Varshney A, Lek M, Warburton PE, Van Ryzin C, Lehky TJ, Zalewski C, King KA, Brewer CC, Thurm A, Snow J, Facio FM, Narisu N, Bonnycastle LL, Swift A, Chines PS, Bell JL, Mohan S, Whitman MC, Staffieri SE, Elder JE, Demer JL, Torres A, Rachid E, Al-Haddad C, Boustany RM, Mackey DA, Brady AF, Fenollar-Cortés M, Fradin M, Kleefstra T, Padberg GW, Raskin S, Sato MT, Orkin SH, Parker SCJ, Hadlock TA, Vissers LELM, van Bokhoven H, Jabs EW, Collins FS, Pennacchio LA, Manoli I, Engle EC.

Hereditary congenital facial paresis type 1 (HCFP1) is an autosomal dominant disorder of absent or limited facial movement that maps to chromosome 3q21-q22 and is hypothesized to result from facial branchial motor neuron (FBMN) maldevelopment. In the present study, we report that HCFP1 results from heterozygous duplications within a neuron-specific GATA2 regulatory region that includes two enhancers and one silencer, and from noncoding single-nucleotide variants (SNVs) within the silencer. Some SNVs impair binding of NR2F1 to the silencer in vitro and in vivo and attenuate in vivo enhancer reporter expression in FBMNs. Gata2 and its effector Gata3 are essential for inner-ear efferent neuron (IEE) but not FBMN development. A humanized HCFP1 mouse model extends Gata2 expression, favors the formation of IEEs over FBMNs and is rescued by conditional loss of Gata3. These findings highlight the importance of temporal gene regulation in development and of noncoding variation in rare mendelian disease.

Novel biallelic variants expand the phenotype of NAA20-related syndrome

D'Onofrio G, Cuccurullo C, Larsen SK, Severino M, D'Amico A, Brønstad K, AlOwain M, Morrison JL, Wheeler PG, Webb BD, Alfalah A, Iacomino M, Uva P, Coppola A, Merla G, Salpietro VD, Zara F, Striano P, Accogli A, Arnesen T, Bilo L.

NAA20 is the catalytic subunit of the NatB complex, which is responsible for N-terminal acetylation of approximately 20% of the human proteome. Recently, pathogenic biallelic variants in NAA20 were associated with a novel neurodevelopmental disorder in five individuals with limited clinical information. We report two sisters harboring compound heterozygous variant (c.100C>T (p.Gln34Ter) and c.11T>C p.(Leu4Pro)) in the NAA20 gene, identified by exome sequencing. In vitro studies showed that the missense variant p.Leu4Pro resulted in a reduction of NAA20 catalytic activity due to weak coupling with the NatB auxiliary subunit. In addition, unpublished data of the previous families were reported, outlining the core phenotype of the NAA20-related disorder mostly characterized by cognitive impairment, microcephaly, ataxia, brain malformations, dysmorphism and variable occurrence of cardiac defect and epilepsy. Remarkably, our two patients featured epilepsy onset in adolescence suggesting this may be a part of syndrome evolution. Functional studies are needed to better understand the complexity of NAA20 variants pathogenesis as well as of other genes linked to N-terminal acetylation.

Malonyl-CoA-acyl carrier protein transacylase (MCAT) is an enzyme involved in mitochondrial fatty acid synthesis (mtFAS) and catalyzes the transfer of the malonyl moiety of malonyl-CoA to the mitochondrial acyl carrier protein (ACP). Previously, we showed that loss-of-function of mtFAS genes, including Mcat, is associated with severe loss of electron transport chain (ETC) complexes in mouse immortalized skeletal myoblasts (Nowinski et al., 2020). Here, we report a proband presenting with hypotonia, failure to thrive, nystagmus, and abnormal brain MRI findings. Using whole exome sequencing, we identified biallelic variants in MCAT. Protein levels for NDUFB8 and COXII, subunits of complex I and IV respectively, were markedly reduced in lymphoblasts and fibroblasts, as well as SDHB for complex II in fibroblasts. ETC enzyme activities were decreased in parallel. Re-expression of wild-type MCAT rescued the phenotype in patient fibroblasts. This is the first report of a patient with MCAT pathogenic variants and combined oxidative phosphorylation deficiency.

Biallelic loss-of-function variants in KCNJ16 presenting with hypokalemic metabolic acidosis

Webb BD, Hotchkiss H, Prasun P, Gelb BD, Satlin L.

KCNJ16 encodes Kir5.1 and acts in combination with Kir4.1, encoded by KCNJ10, to form an inwardly rectifying K+ channel expressed at the basolateral membrane of epithelial cells in the distal nephron. This Kir4.1/Kir5.1 channel is critical for controlling basolateral membrane potential and K+ recycling, the latter coupled to Na-K-ATPase activity, which determines renal Na+ handling. Previous work has shown that Kcnj16-/- mice and SSKcnj16-/- rats demonstrate hypokalemic, hyperchloremic metabolic acidosis. Here, we present the first report of a patient identified to have biallelic loss-of-function variants in KCNJ16 by whole exome sequencing who presented with chronic metabolic acidosis with exacerbations triggered by minor infections.

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