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Mutations in DCDC2 (doublecortin domain containing protein 2) in neonatal sclerosing cholangitis


Background & aims

Neonatal sclerosing cholangitis (NSC) is a severe neonatal-onset cholangiopathy commonly leading to liver transplantation (LT) for end-stage liver disease in childhood. Liver biopsy findings histopathologically resemble those in biliary atresia (BA); however, in NSC extrahepatic bile ducts are patent, whilst in BA their lumina are obliterated. NSC is commonly seen in consanguineous kindreds, suggesting autosomal recessive inheritance.


From 29 NSC patients (24 families) identified, DNA was available in 24 (21 families). Thirteen (7 male) patients (12 families) of consanguineous parentage were selected for whole exome sequencing. Sequence variants were filtered for homozygosity, pathogenicity, minor allele frequency, quality score, and encoded protein expression pattern.


Four of 13 patients were homozygous and two were compound heterozygous for mutations in the doublecortin domain containing 2 gene (DCDC2), which encodes DCDC2 protein and is expressed in cholangiocyte cilia. Another 11 patients were sequenced: one (with one sibling pair) was compound heterozygous for DCDC2 mutations. All mutations were protein-truncating. In available liver tissue from patients with DCDC2 mutations, immunostaining for human DCDC2 and the ciliary protein acetylated alpha-tubulin (ACALT) showed no expression (n=6) and transmission electron microscopy found that cholangiocytes lacked primary cilia (n=5). DCDC2 and ACALT were expressed in NSC patients without DCDC2 mutations (n=22). Of the patients carrying DCDC2 mutations, one died awaiting LT; five came to LT, of whom one died 2years later. The other 4 are well.


Among 24 NSC patients with available DNA, 7 had mutations in DCDC2 (6 of 19 families). NSC patients in substantial proportion harbour mutations in DCDC2. Their disease represents a novel liver-based ciliopathy.

Lay summary

Neonatal sclerosing cholangitis (NSC) is a rare genetic form of liver disease presenting in infancy. Through next generation sequencing we identified mutations in the gene encoding for doublecortin domain containing 2 (DCDC2) protein in a group of NSC children. DCDC2 is a signalling and structural protein found in primary cilia of cholangiocytes. Cholangiocytes are the cells forming the biliary system which is the draining system of the liver.

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