Congenital secondary erythrocytosis is a rare disorder characterized by increased red blood cell production. An important cause involves defects in the oxygen sensing pathway, in particular the PHD2-VHL-HIF axis. Mutations in VHL are also associated with the von Hippel-Lindau tumor predisposition syndrome. The differences in phenotypic expression of VHL mutations are poorly understood. We report on three patients with erythrocytosis, from two unrelated families. All patients show exceptionally high erythropoietin (EPO) levels, and are homozygous for a novel missense mutation in VHL: c.162G>C p.(Met54Ile). The c.162G>C mutation is the most upstream homozygous VHL mutation described so far in patients with erythrocytosis. It abolishes the internal translational start codon, which directs expression of VHLp19, resulting in the production of only VHLp30. The exceptionally high EPO levels and the absence of VHL-associated tumors in the patients suggest that VHLp19 has a role for regulating EPO levels that VHLp30 does not have, whereas VHLp30 is really the tumor suppressor isoform.

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Human Mutation
Department of Hematology