Mutations in the progressive ankylosis gene (Ank/ANKH) cause surprisingly different skeletal phenotypes in mice and humans. In mice, recessive loss-of-function mutations cause arthritis, ectopic crystal formation, and joint fusion throughout the body. In humans, some dominant mutations cause chondrocalcinosis, an adult-onset disease characterized by the deposition of ectopic joint crystals. Other dominant mutations cause craniometaphyseal dysplasia, a childhood disease characterized by sclerosis of the skull and abnormal modeling of the long bones, with little or no joint pathology. Ank encodes a multiple-pass transmembrane protein that regulates pyrophosphate levels inside and outside tissue culture cells in vitro, but its mechanism of action is not yet clear, and conflicting models have been proposed to explain the effects of the human mutations. Here, we test wild-type and mutant forms of ANK for radiolabeled pyrophosphate-transport activity in frog oocytes. We also reconstruct two human mutations in a bacterial artificial chromosome and test them in transgenic mice for rescue of the Ank null phenotype and for induction of new skeletal phenotypes. Wild-type ANK stimulates saturable transport of pyrophosphate ions across the plasma membrane, with half maximal rates attained at physiological levels of pyrophosphate. Chondrocalcinosis mutations retain apparently wild-type transport activity and can rescue the joint-fusion phenotype of Ank null mice. Craniometaphyseal dysplasia mutations do not transport pyrophosphate and cannot rescue the defects of Ank null mice. Furthermore, microcomputed tomography revealed previously unappreciated phenotypes in Ank null mice that are reminiscent of craniometaphyseal dysplasia. The combination of biochemical and genetic analyses presented here provides insight into how mutations in ANKH cause human skeletal disease.
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