Type IV collagens are basement membrane (BM) proteins expressed in all tissues including the vasculature. COL4A1 and COL4A2, the most abundant type IV collagens, form heterotrimers with a 2:1 stoichiometry and each heterotrimer forms a triple helix along the length of the collagenous domains. Recently, mutations in COL4A1 on chromosome 13q34, encoding the α1 chain of type IV collagen, have been linked to a spectrum of cerebral small-vessel disease in humans, including perinatal intracerebral hemorrhage (ICH) with consequent porencephaly, adult-onset ICH, microbleeds, lacunar strokes, and leukoaraiosis, which follows an autosomal dominant pattern of inheritance. This variable phenotype has been named the “COL4A1 stroke syndrome”. In COL4A1 stroke syndrome most mutations are missense mutations involving a glycine residue, including G562E, G749S, G805R, G1130D, G1236R, G1423R, G720D, G1580R, and G755R. Mutations replacing a highly conserved hydrophobic glycine residue likely lead to synthesis of an abnormal protein with abnormal structure and inhibit heterotrimer secretion into the vascular BM, modify its structural properties (when imaged with electron microscopy BM is uneven, with inconsistent density and focal disruptions), and, thus, increase the fragility of the vessel wall when exposed to environmental factors. Although pathological changes in BM also occur in other tissues (mostly retina and kidney), the major site of vessel damage is the brain. In the present review article we will focus on the molecular basis of the COL4A1 stroke syndrome, summarize data on its variable phenotype, and explore additional questions concerning the possible genotype-phenotype correlations and the mechanisms leading to cerebral small-vessel disease in this clinically heterogeneous condition.
Dipartimento di Scienze Mediche e Chirurgiche, Clinica Neurologica, Universita degli Studi di Brescia, P.le Spedali Civili, 1, 25123 Brescia, Italia.