Proprotein convertase subtilisin/kexin type 9 (PCSK9) inhibitors are novel therapeutics for reducing low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDLc). While serious side-effects have not been observed in short-term clinical trials, there remain concerns that long-term PCSK9 inhibition may cause neurocognitive side-effects.
Methods and results
An adult male with childhood-onset global developmental delay, cerebellar atrophy and severe hypolipidaemia underwent extensive biochemical and genetic investigations. Initial testing revealed low circulating PCSK9 levels and a common loss-of-function PCSK9 polymorphism, but these findings did not fully account for severe hypolipidaemia. Whole-exome sequencing was subsequently performed and identified two pathogenic phosphomannose mutase 2 (PMM2) variants (p.Arg141His and p.Pro69Ser) known to cause PMM2-associated congenital disorder of glycosylation (PMM2-CDG). A diagnosis of PMM2-CDG was consistent with the proband’s neurological symptoms and severe hypolipidaemia. Given that PMM2-CDG is characterised by defective protein N-glycosylation and that PCSK9 is a negative regulator of LDLc, we postulated that loss of PCSK9 N-glycosylation mediates hypolipidaemia among patients with PMM2-CDG. First, in an independent cohort of patients with PMM2-CDG (N=8), we verified that circulating PCSK9 levels were significantly lower in patients than controls (p=0.0006). Second, we conducted in vitro experiments in hepatocyte-derived cells to evaluate the effects of PCSK9 N-glycosylation loss on LDL receptor (LDLR) activity. Experimental results suggest that defective PCSK9 N-glycosylation reduces the ability of circulating PCSK9 to degrade LDLR.
Life-long exposure to genetically lower PCSK9 per se is unlikely to cause neurocognitive impairment. Both observational and experimental findings suggest that hypolipidaemia in PMM2-CDG may be partially mediated by loss of PCSK9 N-glycosylation and/or its regulators.