Brain. 2019 Oct 1;142(10):2965-2978. doi: 10.1093/brain/awz247.
Basal ganglia are subcortical grey nuclei that play essential roles in controlling voluntary movements, cognition and emotion. While basal ganglia dysfunction is observed in many neurodegenerative or metabolic disorders, congenital malformations are rare. In particular, dysplastic basal ganglia are part of the malformative spectrum of tubulinopathies and X-linked lissencephaly with abnormal genitalia, but neurodevelopmental syndromes characterized by basal ganglia agenesis are not known to date. We ascertained two unrelated children (both female) presenting with spastic tetraparesis, severe generalized dystonia and intellectual impairment, sharing a unique brain malformation characterized by agenesis of putamina and globi pallidi, dysgenesis of the caudate nuclei, olfactory bulbs hypoplasia, and anomaly of the diencephalic-mesencephalic junction with abnormal corticospinal tract course. Whole-exome sequencing identified two novel homozygous variants, c.26C>A; p.(S9*) and c.752A>G; p.(Q251R) in the GSX2 gene, a member of the family of homeobox transcription factors, which are key regulators of embryonic development. GSX2 is highly expressed in neural progenitors of the lateral and median ganglionic eminences, two protrusions of the ventral telencephalon from which the basal ganglia and olfactory tubercles originate, where it promotes neurogenesis while negatively regulating oligodendrogenesis. The truncating variant resulted in complete loss of protein expression, while the missense variant affected a highly conserved residue of the homeobox domain, was consistently predicted as pathogenic by bioinformatic tools, resulted in reduced protein expression and caused impaired structural stability of the homeobox domain and weaker interaction with DNA according to molecular dynamic simulations. Moreover, the nuclear localization of the mutant protein in transfected cells was significantly reduced compared to the wild-type protein. Expression studies on both patients’ fibroblasts demonstrated reduced expression of GSX2 itself, likely due to altered transcriptional self-regulation, as well as significant expression changes of related genes such as ASCL1 and PAX6. Whole transcriptome analysis revealed a global deregulation in genes implicated in apoptosis and immunity, two broad pathways known to be involved in brain development. This is the first report of the clinical phenotype and molecular basis associated to basal ganglia agenesis in humans.