QARS mutations, tRNA, and neurodegeneration with migrating seizures

Q for glutamine. Transfer RNAs (tRNAs) are small adaptor molecules that match a nucleotide sequence to a given amino acid during protein translation. After unloading their amino acid payload, tRNAs are recharged with new amino acids through specific tRNA synthetases. Q is the official letter for the amino acid glutamine, and its respective tRNA synthetase is glutaminyl-tRNA synthetase (QARS). In a recent publication in the American Journal of Human Genetics, Zhang and colleagues identify compound heterozygous mutations in the QARS gene in two families with progressive microcephaly, neurodegeneration, and intractable, early-onset epilepsy. Interestingly, in at least two probands, the seizures are described as migrating partial seizures reminiscent of Malignant Migrating Partial Seizures of Infancy (MMPSI) due to mutations in KCNT1. The disease mechanism, however, appears to be entirely different. Continue reading