The spondylocostal dysostoses (SCDs) are a heterogeneous group of vertebral malsegmentation disorders that arise during embryonic development by a disruption of somitogenesis. Previously, we had identified two genes that cause a subset of autosomal recessive forms of this disease: DLL3 (SCD1) and MESP2 (SCD2). These genes are important components of the Notch signaling pathway, which has multiple roles in development and disease. Here, we have used a candidate-gene approach to identify a mutation in a third Notch pathway gene, LUNATIC FRINGE (LFNG), in a family with autosomal recessive SCD. LFNG encodes a glycosyltransferase that modifies the Notch family of cell-surface receptors, a key step in the regulation of this signaling pathway. A missense mutation was identified in a highly conserved phenylalanine close to the active site of the enzyme. Functional analysis revealed that the mutant LFNG was not localized to the correct compartment of the cell, was unable to modulate Notch signaling in a cell-based assay, and was enzymatically inactive. This represents the first known mutation in the human LFNG gene and reinforces the hypothesis that proper regulation of the Notch signaling pathway is an absolute requirement for the correct patterning of the axial skeleton.
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