Personalized medicine approach confirms a milder case of ABAT deficiency

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ABAT deficiency (OMIM 613163) is a rare inborn error of metabolism caused by recessive variants in the gene 4-aminobutyric acid transaminase (ABAT), which is responsible for both the catalysis of GABA and maintenance of nucleoside pools in the mitochondria. To date, only a few patients have been reported worldwide. Their clinical presentation has been remarkably consistent with primary features of severe psychomotor retardation, encephalopathy, hypotonia, and infantile-onset refractory epilepsy. We report a new case of ABAT deficiency that marks an important departure from previous clinical findings. The patient presented at age 6 months with global developmental delay, hypotonia, hypersomnolence and mild choreiform movements. At age 18 months, the subject's clinical presentation was still milder than all previously reported patients and, most notably, did not include seizures. Clinical whole exome sequencing revealed two heterozygous ABAT missense variants that are rare and predicted damaging, but never before reported in a patient and were reported as variants of unknown significance. To test the potential pathogenicity of the variants identified in this patient we developed a cell-based system to test both functions of the ABAT protein via GABA transaminase enzyme activity and mtDNA copy number assays. This systematic approach was validated using vigabatrin, the irreversible inhibitor of ABAT, and leveraged to test the functionality of all ABAT variants in previously reported patients plus the variants in this new case. This work confirmed the novel variants compromised ABAT function to similar levels as variants in previously characterized cases with more severe clinical presentation, thereby confirming the molecular diagnosis of this patient. Additionally, functional studies conducted in cells from both mild and severe patient fibroblasts showed similar levels of compromise in mitochondrial membrane potential, respiratory capacity, ATP production and mtDNA depletion. These results illustrate how cell-based functional studies can aid in the diagnosis of a rare, neurological disorder. Importantly, this patient marks an expansion in the clinical phenotype for ABAT deficiency to a milder presentation that is more commonly seen in pediatric genetics and neurology clinics.




Besse, A., Petersen, A. K., Hunter, J. V., Appadurai, V., Lalani, S. R., & Bonnen, P. E. (2016). Personalized medicine approach confirms a milder case of ABAT deficiency. Molecular Brain, 9(1), 1–10.

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