Motor neuron diseases (MNDs) are a group of neurodegenerative disorders with involvement of upper and/or lower motor neurons, such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), progressive bulbar palsy, and primary lateral sclerosis. Recently, we have mapped a new locus for an atypical form of ALS/MND (atypical amyotrophic lateral sclerosis [ALS8]) at 20q13.3 in a large white Brazilian family. Here, we report the finding of a novel missense mutation in the vesicle-associated membrane protein/synaptobrevin-associated membrane protein B (VAPB) gene in patients from this family. Subsequently, the same mutation was identified in patients from six additional kindreds but with different clinical courses, such as ALS8, late-onset SMA, and typical severe ALS with rapid progression. Although it was not possible to link all these families, haplotype analysis suggests a founder effect. Members of the vesicle-associated proteins are intracellular membrane proteins that can associate with microtubules and that have been shown to have a function in membrane transport. These data suggest that clinically variable MNDs may be caused by a dysfunction in intracellular membrane trafficking.
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