Familial essential tremor (ET), the most common inherited movement disorder, is generally transmitted as an autosomal dominant trait. A genome-wide scan for ET revealed one major locus on chromosome 3q13. Here, we report that the Ser9Gly variant in the dopamine D(3) receptor gene (DRD3), localized on 3q13.3, is associated and cosegregates with familial ET in 23 out of 30 French families. Sequencing revealed no other nonsynonymous variants in the DRD3-coding sequence and in the first 871 bp of the 5' flanking region. Moreover, Gly-9 homozygous patients presented with more severe and/or earlier onset forms of the disease than heterozygotes. A replication study comparing 276 patients with ET and 184 normal controls confirmed the association of the Gly-9 variant with risk and age-at-onset of ET. In human embryonic kidney (HEK) 293-transfected cells, the Gly-9 variant did not differ from the Ser-9 variant with respect to glycosylation and to anterograde and retrograde trafficking, but dopamine had an affinity that was four to five times higher. With the Gly-9 variant, the dopamine-mediated cAMP response was increased, and the mitogen-associated protein kinase (MAPK) signal was prolonged, as compared with the Ser-9 variant. The gain-of-function produced by the Gly-9 variant may explain why drugs active against tremor in Parkinson's disease (PD) are usually not effective in the treatment of ET and suggests that DRD3 partial agonists or antagonists should be considered as novel therapeutic options for patients with ET.
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