Purpose: Biallelic variants in UCHL1 have been associated with a progressive early-onset neurodegenerative disorder, autosomal recessive spastic paraplegia type 79. In this study, we investigated heterozygous UCHL1 variants on the basis of results from cohort-based burden analyses.
Methods: Gene-burden analyses were performed on exome and genome data of independent cohorts of patients with hereditary ataxia and spastic paraplegia from Germany and the United Kingdom in a total of 3169 patients and 33,141 controls. Clinical data of affected individuals and additional independent families were collected and evaluated. Patients’ fibroblasts were used to perform mass spectrometry-based proteomics.
Results: UCHL1 was prioritized in both independent cohorts as a candidate gene for an autosomal dominant disorder. We identified a total of 34 cases from 18 unrelated families, carrying 13 heterozygous loss-of-function variants (15 families) and an inframe insertion (3 families). Affected individuals mainly presented with spasticity (24/31), ataxia (28/31), neuropathy (11/21), and optic atrophy (9/17). The mass spectrometry-based proteomics showed approximately 50% reduction of UCHL1 expression in patients’ fibroblasts.
Conclusion: Our bioinformatic analysis, in-depth clinical and genetic workup, and functional studies established haploinsufficiency of UCHL1 as a novel disease mechanism in spastic ataxia.