eIF2B (eukaryotic initiation factor 2B) is a GEF (guanine nucleotide-exchange factor) that plays, with its substrate eIF2, a key regulatory role in the translation initiation phase of protein synthesis. The importance of correct control of eIF2 and eIF2B for normal physiology is underlined by the recent involvement of the five genes that encode the five eIF2B subunits in a severe autosomal recessive neurodegenerative disease, described in young children as CACH (childhood ataxia with central nervous system hypomyelination)/VWM (leukoencephalopathy with vanishing white matter) syndrome. The syndrome is characterized by episodes of rapid deterioration during febrile illnesses or following head trauma and symmetrical demyelination of the brain white matter with cavitation aspects, leading to a progressive vanishing of the white matter replaced by CSF (cerebrospinal fluid). However, a wide clinical spectrum has been observed in the 148 patients presently reported, from congenital forms with rapid death to adult-onset forms with slow mental decline and progressive motor dysfunction, sometimes associated with congenital eye abnormalities or ovariodysgenesis. So far, 77 different mutations in each of the five EIF2B genes (EIF2B15), encoding subunits eIF2Bα–ϵ, have been found, with two-thirds affecting the eIF2Bϵ subunit. The correlation found between the level of GEF activity of eIF2B in the mutated white blood cells and the age at disease onset suggests a direct role of the abnormal translation control in the pathophysiology of the disease.

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