Familial exudative vitreoretinopathy (FEVR) is a severe retinal vascular disease that causes blindness. FEVR has been linked to mutations in several genes associated with inactivation of the Norrin/β-catenin signaling pathway, but these account for only approximately 50% of cases. We report that mutations in α-catenin (CTNNA1) cause FEVR by overactivating the β-catenin pathway and disrupting cell adherens junctions. We identified 3 heterozygous mutations in CTNNA1 (p.F72S, p.R376Cfs*27, and p.P893L) by exome sequencing and further demonstrated that FEVR-associated mutations led to overactivation of Norrin/β-catenin signaling as a result of impaired protein interactions within the cadherin-catenin complex. The clinical features of FEVR were reproduced in mice lacking Ctnna1 in vascular endothelial cells (ECs) or with overactivated β-catenin signaling by an EC-specific gain-of-function allele of Ctnnb1. In isolated mouse lung ECs, both CTNNA1-P893L and F72S mutants failed to rescue either the disrupted F-actin arrangement or the VE-cadherin and CTNNB1 distribution. Moreover, we discovered that compound heterozygous Ctnna1 F72S and a deletion allele could cause a similar phenotype. Furthermore, in a FEVR family, we identified a mutation of LRP5, which activates Norrin/β-catenin signaling, and the corresponding knockin mice exhibited a partial FEVR-like phenotype. Our study demonstrates that the precise regulation of β-catenin activation is critical for retinal vascular development and provides new insights into the pathogenesis of FEVR.
Xianjun Zhu, Mu Yang, Peiquan Zhao, Shujin Li, Lin Zhang, Lulin Huang, Yi Huang, Ping Fei, Yeming Yang, Shanshan Zhang, Huijuan Xu, Ye Yuan, Xiang Zhang, Xiong Zhu, Shi Ma, Fang Hao, Periasamy Sundaresan, Weiquan Zhu, Zhenglin Yang