Hyperekplexia also known as Startle disease is a rare neuromotor hereditary disorder characterized by exaggerated startle responses to unexpected auditory, tactile, and visual stimuli and generalized muscle stiffness, which both gradually subside during the first months of life. Although the diagnosis of Hyperekplexia is based on clinical findings, pathogenic variants in five genes have been reported to cause Hyperekplexia, of which GLRA1 accounts for about 80% of cases. Dominant and recessive mutations have been identified in GLRA1 gene as pathogenic variants in many individuals with the familial form of Hyperekplexia and occasionally in simplex cases.
In the present study, we describe clinical and genetic features of two Italian siblings, one with the major and one with the minor form of the disease. DNA samples from the probands and their parents were performed by NGS approach and validated by Sanger sequencing. The analysis of the GLRA1 gene revealed, in both probands, compound heterozygous mutations: c.895C > T or p.R299X inherited from the mother and c.587C > A or p.D98E inherited from the father.
Until now, these two identified mutations in GLRA1 have not been reported before as compound mutations. What clearly emerges within our study is the clinical heterogeneity in the same family. In fact, even though in the same pedigree, the affected mother showed only mild startle responses to unexpected noise stimuli, which might be explained by variable expressivity, while the father, showed no clear signs of symptomatology, which might be explained by non-penetrance. Finally, the two brothers have different form of the disease, even if the compound heterozygous mutations in GLRA1 are the same, showing that the same mutation in GLRA1 could have different phenotypic expressions and suggesting an underling mechanism of variable expressivity.