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Heterozygous variants in SLC6A1, encoding the GAT-1 GABA transporter, are associated with seizures, developmental delay, and autism. The majority of affected individuals carry missense variants, many of which are recurrent germline de novo mutations, raising the possibility of gain-of-function or dominant-negative effects. To understand the functional consequences, we performed an in vitro GABA uptake assay for 213 unique variants, including 24 control variants. De novo variants consistently resulted in a decrease in GABA uptake, in keeping with haploinsufficiency underlying all neurodevelopmental phenotypes. Where present, ClinVar pathogenicity reports correlated well with GABA uptake data; the functional data can inform future reports for the remaining 72% of unscored variants. Surface localization was assessed for 86 variants; two-thirds of loss-of-function missense variants prevented GAT-1 from being present on the membrane while GAT-1 was on the surface but with reduced activity for the remaining third. Surprisingly, recurrent de novo missense variants showed moderate loss-of-function effects that reduced GABA uptake with no evidence for dominant-negative or gain-of-function effects. Using linear regression across multiple missense severity scores to extrapolate the functional data to all potential SLC6A1 missense variants, we observe an abundance of GAT-1 residues that are sensitive to substitution. The extent of this missense vulnerability accounts for the clinically observed missense enrichment; overlap with hypermutable CpG sites accounts for the recurrent missense variants. Strategies to increase the expression of the wild-type SLC6A1 allele are likely to be beneficial across neurodevelopmental disorders, though the developmental stage and extent of required rescue remain unknown.

Original publication




Journal article


Am J Hum Genet

Publication Date



GABA uptake, GAT-1, GAT1, SLC6A1, autism spectrum disorders, epilepsy with myoclonic-atonic seizures, missense vulnerability, neurodevelopmental delay