Decreased plasma carnitine and trimethyl-L-lysine levels associated with lysosomal accumulation of a trimethyl-L-lysine containing protein in Batten disease.
Batten disease, or juvenile neuronal ceroid-lipofuscinosis, is an autosomal-recessive hereditary disorder that leads to blindness, severe neurological degeneration, and premature death. The disease is characterized by massive accumulation of lysosomal storage bodies in most tissues. A significant constituent of the storage material is a protein that appears to be almost identical to a small hydrophobic inner mitochondrial membrane protein, subunit c of ATP synthase. The protein isolated from the storage bodies contains an epsilon-N-trimethyl-L-lysine (TML) residue at amino acid position 43. The presence of TML in the stored protein suggests that one of the lysine residues in subunit c is normally trimethylated, and this trimethylation may act as a signal to initiate degradation of the protein. Free TML produced by the degradation of TML-containing proteins is the first intermediate in the carnitine biosynthetic pathway. It is possible that trimethylated subunit c is a major source of the free TML used in carnitine biosynthesis. If this is the case, one would predict that the genetic defect resulting in the accumulation of TML containing subunit c would also reduce systemic levels of free TML and carnitine. To evaluate this possibility, plasma TML and carnitine levels were measured in affected human subjects, heterozygous carriers, and normal controls. Both TML and carnitine levels were significantly depressed in the affected individuals. This suggests that subunit c is normally a major source of TML for carnitine biosynthesis. In Batten disease, failure to degrade the TML-containing form of subunit c is probably responsible for the reduction in plasma TML and carnitine levels.