Inspired by two patients
So far, only 70 patients around the world have been diagnosed with a newly identified rare syndrome known as KCNMA1-linked channelopathy. The condition is characterised by seizures and abnormal movements which include frequent ‘drop attacks’, a sudden and debilitating loss of muscle control that causes patients to fall without warning.
The disease is associated with mutations in the gene for KCNMA1, a member of a class of proteins important for controlling nerve cell activity and brain function. However, due to the limited number of people affected by the condition, it is difficult to link a particular mutation to the observed symptoms; the basis for the drop attacks therefore remains unknown. Park et al. set out to ‘model’ KCNMA1-linked channelopathy in the laboratory, in order to determine which mutations in the KCNMA1 gene caused these symptoms.
Three groups of mice were each genetically engineered to carry either one of the two most common mutations in the gene for KCNMA1, or a very rare mutation associated with the movement symptoms. Behavioural experiments and studies of nerve cell activity revealed that the mice carrying mutations that made the KCNMA1 protein more active developed seizures more easily and became immobilized, showing the mouse version of drop attacks. Giving these mice the drug dextroamphetamine, which works in some human patients, stopped the immobilizing attacks altogether.
These results show for the first time which specific genetic changes cause the main symptoms of KCNMA1-linked channelopathy. Park et al. hope that this knowledge will deepen our understanding of this disease and help develop better treatments.
Park SM, Roache CE, Iffland PH 2nd, Moldenhauer HJ, Matychak KK, Plante AE, Lieberman AG, Crino PB, Meredith A. BK channel properties correlate with neurobehavioral severity in three KCNMA1-linked channelopathy mouse models. Elife. 2022 Jul 12;11:e77953. doi: 10.7554/eLife.77953. PMID: 35819138; PMCID: PMC9275823.
KCNMA1 forms the pore of BK K+ channels, which regulate neuronal and muscle excitability. Recently, genetic screening identified heterozygous KCNMA1 variants in a subset of patients with debilitating paroxysmal non-kinesigenic dyskinesia, presenting with or without epilepsy (PNKD3). However, the relevance of KCNMA1 mutations and the basis for clinical heterogeneity in PNKD3 has not been established. Here, we evaluate the relative severity of three KCNMA1 patient variants in BK channels, neurons, and mice. In heterologous cells, BKN999S and BKD434G channels displayed gain-of-function (GOF) properties, whereas BKH444Q channels showed loss-of-function (LOF) properties. The relative degree of channel activity was BKN999S > BKD434G>WT > BKH444Q. BK currents and action potential firing were increased, and seizure thresholds decreased, in Kcnma1N999S/WT and Kcnma1D434G/WT transgenic mice but not Kcnma1H444Q/WT mice. In a novel behavioral test for paroxysmal dyskinesia, the more severely affected Kcnma1N999S/WT mice became immobile after stress. This was abrogated by acute dextroamphetamine treatment, consistent with PNKD3-affected individuals. Homozygous Kcnma1D434G/D434G mice showed similar immobility, but in contrast, homozygous Kcnma1H444Q/H444Q mice displayed hyperkinetic behavior. These data establish the relative pathogenic potential of patient alleles as N999S>D434G>H444Q and validate Kcnma1N999S/WT mice as a model for PNKD3 with increased seizure propensity.