H-TWIST belongs to the family of basic helix-loop-helix (bHLH) transcription factors known to exert their activity through dimer formation. We have demonstrated recently that mutations in H-TWIST account for Saethre-Chotzen syndrome (SCS), an autosomal dominant craniosynostosis syndrome characterized by premature fusion of coronal sutures and limb abnormalities of variable severity. Although insertions, deletions, nonsense and missense mutations have been identified, no genotype-phenotype correlation could be found, suggesting that the gene alterations lead to a loss of protein function irrespective of the mutation. To assess this hypothesis, we studied stability, dimerization capacities and subcellular distribution of three types of TWIST mutant. Here, we show that: (i) nonsense mutations resulted in truncated protein instability; (ii) missense mutations involving the helical domains led to a complete loss of H-TWIST heterodimerization with the E12 bHLH protein in the two-hybrid system and dramatically altered the ability of the TWIST protein to localize in the nucleus of COS-transfected cells; and (iii) in-frame insertion or missense mutations within the loop significantly altered dimer formation but not the nuclear location of the protein. We conclude that at least two distinct mechanisms account for loss of TWIST protein function in SCS patients, namely protein degradation and subcellular mislocalization.
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