Pathobiology of Christianson syndrome: Linking disrupted endosomal-lysosomal function with intellectual disability and sensory impairments

Mallory Kerner-Rossi, Maria Gulinello, Steven Walkley, Kostantin Dobrenis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Christianson syndrome (CS) is a recently described rare neurogenetic disorder presenting early in life with a broad range of neurological symptoms, including severe intellectual disability with nonverbal status, hyperactivity, epilepsy, and progressive ataxia due to cerebellar atrophy. CS is due to loss-of-function mutations in SLC9A6, encoding NHE6, a sodium-hydrogen exchanger involved in the regulation of early endosomal pH. Here we review what is currently known about the neuropathogenesis of CS, based on insights from experimental models, which to date have focused on mechanisms that affect the CNS, specifically the brain. In addition, parental reports of sensory disturbances in their children with CS, including an apparent insensitivity to pain, led us to explore sensory function and related neuropathology in Slc9a6 KO mice. We present new data showing sensory deficits in Slc9a6 KO mice, which had reduced behavioral responses to noxious thermal and mechanical stimuli (Hargreaves and Von Frey assays, respectively) compared to wild type (WT) littermates. Immunohistochemical and ultrastructural analysis of the spinal cord and peripheral nervous system revealed intracellular accumulation of the glycosphingolipid GM2 ganglioside in KO but not WT mice. This cellular storage phenotype was most abundant in neurons of lamina I-II of the dorsal horn, a major relay site in the processing of painful stimuli. Spinal cords of KO mice also exhibited changes in astroglial and microglial populations throughout the gray matter suggestive of a neuroinflammatory process. Our findings establish the Slc9a6 KO mouse as a relevant tool for studying the sensory deficits in CS, and highlight selective vulnerabilities in relevant cell populations that may contribute to this phenotype. How NHE6 loss of function leads to such a multifaceted neurological syndrome is still undefined, and it is likely that NHE6 is involved with many cellular processes critical to normal nervous system development and function. In addition, the sensory issues exhibited by Slc9a6 KO mice, in combination with our neuropathological findings, are consistent with NHE6 loss of function impacting the entire nervous system. Sensory dysfunction in intellectually disabled individuals is challenging to assess and may impair patient safety and quality of life. Further mechanistic studies of the neurological impairments underlying CS and other genetic intellectual disability disorders must also take into account mechanisms affecting broader nervous system function in order to understand the full range of associated disabilities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number106867
JournalNeurobiology of Learning and Memory
StatePublished - Nov 2019


  • Autism
  • Ganglioside
  • Lysosomal disease
  • Neurodegeneration
  • Nociception

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


Dive into the research topics of 'Pathobiology of Christianson syndrome: Linking disrupted endosomal-lysosomal function with intellectual disability and sensory impairments'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this