Mutations in the human desmin gene cause myopathies and cardiomyopathies. This study aimed to elucidate molecular mechanisms initiated by the heterozygous R406W-desmin mutation in the development of a severe and early-onset cardiac phenotype. We report an adolescent patient who underwent cardiac transplantation as a result of restrictive cardiomyopathy caused by a heterozygous R406W-desmin mutation. Sections of the explanted heart were analyzed with antibodies specific to 406W-desmin and to intercalated disc proteins. Effects of the R406W mutation on the molecular properties of desmin were addressed by cell transfection and in vitro assembly experiments. To prove the genuine deleterious effect of the mutation on heart tissue, we further generated and analyzed R405W-desmin knock-in mice harboring the orthologous form of the human R406W-desmin.

Microscopic analysis of the explanted heart revealed desmin aggregates and the absence of desmin filaments at intercalated discs. Structural changes within intercalated discs were revealed by the abnormal organization of desmoplakin, plectin, N-cadherin, and connexin-43. Next-generation sequencing confirmed the DES variant c.1216C>T (p.R406W) as the sole disease-causing mutation. Cell transfection studies disclosed a dual behavior of R406W-desmin with both its integration into the endogenous intermediate filament system and segregation into protein aggregates.

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