Exome sequencing reveals a novel Moroccan founder mutation in SLC19A3 as a new cause of early-childhood fatal Leigh syndrome

Mike Gerards, Rick Kamps, Jo van Oevelen, Iris Boesten, Eveline Jongen, Bart de Koning, Hans R Scholte, Isabel de Angst, Kees Schoonderwoerd, Abdelaziz Sefiani, Ilham Ratbi, Wouter Coppieters, Latifa Karim, René de Coo, Bianca van den Bosch, Hubert Smeets*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Leigh syndrome is an early onset, often fatal progressive neurodegenerative disorder caused by mutations in the mitochondrial or nuclear DNA. Until now, mutations in more than 35 genes have been reported to cause Leigh syndrome, indicating an extreme genetic heterogeneity for this disorder, but still only explaining part of the cases. The possibility of whole exome sequencing enables not only mutation detection in known candidate genes, but also the identification of new genes associated with Leigh syndrome in small families and isolated cases. Exome sequencing was combined with homozygosity mapping to identify the genetic defect in a Moroccan family with fatal Leigh syndrome in early childhood and specific magnetic resonance imaging abnormalities in the brain. We detected a homozygous nonsense mutation (c.20C>A; p.Ser7Ter) in the thiamine transporter SLC19A3. In vivo overexpression of wild-type SLC19A3 showed an increased thiamine uptake, whereas overexpression of mutant SLC19A3 did not, confirming that the mutation results in an absent or non-functional protein. Seventeen additional patients with Leigh syndrome were screened for mutations in SLC19A3 using conventional Sanger sequencing. Two unrelated patients, both from Moroccan origin and one from consanguineous parents, were homozygous for the same p.Ser7Ter mutation. One of these patients showed the same MRI abnormalities as the patients from the first family. Strikingly, patients receiving thiamine had an improved life-expectancy. One patient in the third family deteriorated upon interruption of the thiamine treatment and recovered after reinitiating. Although unrelated, all patients came from the province Al Hoceima in Northern Morocco. Based on the recombination events the mutation was estimated to have occurred 1250-1750 years ago. Our data shows that SLC19A3 is a new candidate for mutation screening in patients with Leigh syndrome, who might benefit from high doses of thiamine and/or biotin. Especially, Moroccan patients with Leigh syndrome should be tested for the c.20C>A founder mutation in SLC19A3.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)882-90
Number of pages9
Issue numberPt 3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2013


  • Adolescent
  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Base Sequence
  • Brain
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Codon, Nonsense
  • Exome
  • Female
  • Founder Effect
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Leigh Disease
  • Male
  • Membrane Transport Proteins
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Pedigree
  • Syndrome
  • Young Adult

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