The association between Z α1-antitrypsin deficiency and juvenile cirrhosis is well-recognized, and there is now convincing evidence that the hepatic inclusions are the result of entangled polymers of mutant Z α1-antitrypsin. Four percent of the northern European Caucasian population are heterozygotes for the Z variant, but even more common is S α1-antitrypsin, which is found in up to 28% of southern Europeans. The S variant is known to have an increased susceptibility to polymerization, although this is marginal compared with the more conformationally unstable Z variant. There has been speculation that the two may interact to produce cirrhosis, but this has never been demonstrated experimentally. This hypothesis was raised again by the observation reported here of a mixed heterozygote for Z α1-antitrypsin and another conformationally unstable variant (I α1-antitrypsin; 39Arg→Cys) identified in a 34-year-old man with cirrhosis related to α1-antitrypsin deficiency. The conformational stability of the I variant has been characterized, and we have used fluorescence resonance energy transfer to demonstrate the formation of heteropolymers between S and Z α1-antitrypsin. Taken together, these results indicate that not only may mixed variants form heteropolymers, but that this can causally lead to the development of cirrhosis.
Ravi Mahadeva, Wun-Shaing W. Chang, Timothy R. Dafforn, Diana J. Oakley, Richard C. Foreman, Jacqueline Calvin, Derek G.D. Wight, David A. Lomas