Biallelic variants in COPB1 cause a novel, severe intellectual disability syndrome with cataracts and variable microcephaly

William L. Macken, Annie Godwin, Gabrielle Wheway, Karen Stals, Liliya Nazlamova, Sian Ellard, Ahmed Alfares, Taghrid Aloraini, Lamia AlSubaie, Majid Alfadhel, Sulaiman Alajaji, Htoo A. Wai, Jay Self, Andrew G.L. Douglas, Alexander P. Kao, Matthew Guille, Diana Baralle*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Background: Coat protein complex 1 (COPI) is integral in the sorting and retrograde trafficking of proteins and lipids from the Golgi apparatus to the endoplasmic reticulum (ER). In recent years, coat proteins have been implicated in human diseases known collectively as “coatopathies”. 

Methods: Whole exome or genome sequencing of two families with a neuro-developmental syndrome, variable microcephaly and cataracts revealed biallelic variants in COPB1, which encodes the beta-subunit of COPI (β-COP). To investigate Family 1’s splice donor site variant, we undertook patient blood RNA studies and CRISPR/Cas9 modelling of this variant in a homologous region of the Xenopus tropicalis genome. To investigate Family 2’s missense variant, we studied cellular phenotypes of human retinal epithelium and embryonic kidney cell lines transfected with a COPB1 expression vector into which we had introduced Family 2’s mutation. 

Results: We present a new recessive coatopathy typified by severe developmental delay and cataracts and variable microcephaly. A homozygous splice donor site variant in Family 1 results in two aberrant transcripts, one of which causes skipping of exon 8 in COPB1 pre-mRNA, and a 36 amino acid in-frame deletion, resulting in the loss of a motif at a small interaction interface between β-COP and β’-COP. Xenopus tropicalis animals with a homologous mutation, introduced by CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing, recapitulate features of the human syndrome including microcephaly and cataracts. In vitro modelling of the COPB1 c.1651T>G p.Phe551Val variant in Family 2 identifies defective Golgi to ER recycling of this mutant β-COP, with the mutant protein being retarded in the Golgi. 

Conclusions: This adds to the growing body of evidence that COPI subunits are essential in brain development and human health and underlines the utility of exome and genome sequencing coupled with Xenopus tropicalis CRISPR/Cas modelling for the identification and characterisation of novel rare disease genes.

Original languageEnglish
Article number34
Pages (from-to)1-19
Number of pages19
JournalGenome Medicine
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 25 Feb 2021


  • Cataract
  • Coatomer
  • COPB1
  • COPI
  • Intellectual disability
  • Microcephaly
  • Xenopus model
  • β-COP
  • UKRI
  • BB/K019988/1


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