Bi-allelic variants in neuronal cell adhesion molecule cause a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by developmental delay, hypotonia, neuropathy/spasticity

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Cell adhesion molecules are membrane-bound proteins predominantly expressed in the central nervous system along principal axonal pathways with key roles in nervous system development, neural cell differentiation and migration, axonal growth and guidance, myelination, and synapse formation. Here, we describe ten affected individuals with bi-allelic variants in the neuronal cell adhesion molecule NRCAM that lead to a neurodevelopmental syndrome of varying severity; the individuals are from eight families. This syndrome is characterized by developmental delay/intellectual disability, hypotonia, peripheral neuropathy, and/or spasticity. Computational analyses of NRCAM variants, many of which cluster in the third fibronectin type III (Fn-III) domain, strongly suggest a deleterious effect on NRCAM structure and function, including possible disruption of its interactions with other proteins. These findings are corroborated by previous in vitro studies of murine Nrcam-deficient cells, revealing abnormal neurite outgrowth, synaptogenesis, and formation of nodes of Ranvier on myelinated axons. Our studies on zebrafish nrcamaΔ mutants lacking the third Fn-III domain revealed that mutant larvae displayed significantly altered swimming behavior compared to wild-type larvae (p < 0.03). Moreover, nrcamaΔ mutants displayed a trend toward increased amounts of α-tubulin fibers in the dorsal telencephalon, demonstrating an alteration in white matter tracts and projections. Taken together, our study provides evidence that NRCAM disruption causes a variable form of a neurodevelopmental disorder and broadens the knowledge on the growing role of the cell adhesion molecule family in the nervous system.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)518-532
Number of pages15
JournalAmerican Journal of Human Genetics
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished or Issued - 3 Mar 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • hypotonia
  • neurodevelopmental disease
  • neuronal cell adhesion molecule
  • peripheral neuropathy
  • spasticity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics
  • Genetics(clinical)

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