Mutations in FLVCR1 cause posterior column ataxia and retinitis pigmentosa

The study of inherited retinal diseases has advanced our knowledge of the cellular and molecular mechanisms involved in sensory neural signaling. Dysfunction of two specific sensory modalities, vision and proprioception, characterizes the phenotype of the rare, autosomal-recessive disorder posterior column ataxia and retinitis pigmentosa (PCARP). Using targeted DNA capture and high-throughput sequencing, we analyzed the entire 4.2 Mb candidate sequence on chromosome 1q32 to find the gene mutated in PCARP in a single family. Employing comprehensive bioinformatic analysis and filtering, we identified a single-nucleotide coding variant in the feline leukemia virus subgroup C cellular receptor 1 (FLVCR1), a gene encoding a heme-transporter protein. Sanger sequencing confirmed the FLVCR1 mutation in this family and identified different homozygous missense mutations located within the protein’s transmembrane channel segment in two other unrelated families with PCARP. To determine whether the selective pathologic features of PCARP correlated with FLVCR1 expression, we examined wild-type mouse Flvcr1 mRNA levels in the posterior column of the spinal cord and the retina via quantitative real-time reverse-transcriptase PCR. The Flvcr1 mRNA levels were most abundant in the retina, followed by the posterior column of the spinal cord and other brain regions. These results suggest that aberrant FLVCR1 causes a selective degeneration of a subpopulation of neurons in the retina and the posterior columns of the spinal cord via dysregulation of heme or iron homeostasis. This finding broadens the molecular basis of sensory neural signaling to include common mechanisms that involve proprioception and vision.