Inactivation of the β4 subunit of the calcium channel in the mouse neurological mutant lethargic results in a complex neurological disorder that includes absence epilepsy and ataxia. To determine the role of the calcium- channel β4-subunit gene CACNB4 on chromosome 2q22-23 in related human disorders, we screened for mutations in small pedigrees with familial epilepsy and ataxia. The premature-termination mutation R482X was identified in a patient with juvenile myoclonic epilepsy. The R482X protein lacks the 38 C-terminal amino acids containing part of an interaction domain for the α1 subunit. The missense mutation C104F was identified both in a German family with generalized epilepsy and praxis-induced seizures and in a French Canadian family with episodic ataxia. These coding mutations were not detected in 255 unaffected control individuals (510 chromosomes), and they may be considered candidate disease mutations. The results of functional tests of the truncated protein R482X in Xenopus laevis oocytes demonstrated a small decrease in the fast time constant for inactivation of the cotransfected α1 subunit. Further studies will be required to evaluate the in vivo consequences of these mutations. We also describe eight noncoding single-nucleotide substitutions, two of which are present at polymorphic frequency, and a previously unrecognized first intron of CACNB4 that interrupts exon 1 at codon 21.
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