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The NEU1 gene is the first identified member of the human sialidases, glycohydrolitic enzymes that remove the terminal sialic acid from oligosaccharide chains. Mutations in NEU1 gene are causative of sialidosis (MIM 256550), a severe lysosomal storage disorder showing autosomal recessive mode of inheritance. Sialidosis has been classified into two subtypes: sialidosis type I, a normomorphic, late-onset form, and sialidosis type II, a more severe neonatal or early-onset form. A total of 50 causative mutations are reported in HGMD database, most of which are missense variants. To further characterize the NEU1 gene and identify new functionally relevant protein isoforms, we decided to study its genetic variability in the human population using the data generated by two large sequencing projects: the 1000 Genomes Project (1000G) and the NHLBI GO Exome Sequencing Project (ESP). Together these two datasets comprise a cohort of 7595 sequenced individuals, making it possible to identify rare variants and dissect population specific ones. By integrating this approach with biochemical and cellular studies, we were able to identify new rare missense and frameshift alleles in NEU1 gene. Among the 9 candidate variants tested, only two resulted in significantly lower levels of sialidase activity (p<0.05), namely c.650T>C and c.700G>A. These two mutations give rise to the amino acid substitutions p.V217A and p.D234N, respectively. NEU1 variants including either of these two amino acid changes have 44% and 25% residual sialidase activity when compared to the wild-type enzyme, reduced protein levels and altered subcellular localization. Thus they may represent new, putative pathological mutations resulting in sialidosis type I. The in silico approach used in this study has enabled the identification of previously unknown NEU1 functional alleles that are widespread in the population and could be tested in future functional studies.

Original publication




Journal article


PloS one

Publication Date





Department of Molecular and Translation Medicine, Unit of Biotechnology, University of Brescia, Brescia, Lombardy, Italy.


COS Cells, Animals, Cercopithecus aethiops, Humans, Mucolipidoses, Neuraminidase, Cohort Studies, Sequence Analysis, DNA, Computational Biology, Protein Structure, Tertiary, Mutation, Models, Molecular, Genetic Variation