Desmin is the major intermediate filament (IF) protein in human heart and skeletal muscle. So-called ‘desminopathies’ are disorders due to pathogenic variants in the DES gene and are associated with skeletal myopathies and/or various types of cardiomyopathies. So far, only a limited number of DES pathogenic variants have been identified and functionally characterized.
Using a Sanger- and next generation sequencing (NGS) approach in patients with various types of cardiomyopathies, we identified two novel, non-synonymous missense DES variants: p.(Ile402Thr) and p.(Glu410Lys). Mutation carriers developed dilated (DCM) or arrhythmogenic cardiomyopathy (ACM), cardiac conduction disease and exercise-induced polymorphic ventricular tachycardia, leading to syncope, heart failure and sudden cardiac death. To investigate the functional impact of these four DES variants, transfection experiments using SW-13 and H9c2 cells with native and mutant desmin were performed and filament assembly was analyzed by confocal microscopy. The DES_p.(Ile402Thr) and DES_p.(Glu410Lys) cells showed filament assembly defects forming cytoplasmic desmin aggregates. Furthermore, immunohistochemical and ultrastructural analysis of myocardial tissue from mutation carriers with the DES_p.(Glu410Lys) pathogenic variant supported the in vitro results.
Our in vitro results supported the classification of DES_p.(Ile402Thr) and DES_p.(Glu410Lys) as novel pathogenic variants and demonstrated that the cardiac phenotypes associated with DES variants are diverse and cell culture experiments improve in silico analysis and genetic counseling because the pathogenicity of a variant can be clarified.

Copyright © 2020. Published by Elsevier B.V.