Mutations of genes whose primary function is the regulation of membrane traffic are increasingly being identified as the underlying causes of various important human disorders. Intriguingly, mutations in ubiquitously expressed membrane traffic genes often lead to cell type- or organ-specific disorders. This is particularly true for neuronal diseases, identifying the nervous system as the most sensitive tissue to alterations of membrane traffic. Charcot-Marie-Tooth (CMT) disease is one of the most common inherited peripheral neuropathies. It is also known as hereditary motor and sensory neuropathy (HMSN), which comprises a group of disorders specifically affecting peripheral nerves. This peripheral neuropathy, highly heterogeneous both clinically and genetically, is characterized by a slowly progressive degeneration of the muscle of the foot, lower leg, hand and forearm, accompanied by sensory loss in the toes, fingers and limbs. More than 30 genes have been identified as targets of mutations that cause CMT neuropathy. A number of these genes encode proteins directly or indirectly involved in the regulation of intracellular traffic. Indeed, the list of genes linked to CMT disease includes genes important for vesicle formation, phosphoinositide metabolism, lysosomal degradation, mitochondrial fission and fusion, and also genes encoding endosomal and cytoskeletal proteins. This review focuses on the link between intracellular transport and CMT disease, highlighting the molecular mechanisms that underlie the different forms of this peripheral neuropathy and discussing the pathophysiological impact of membrane transport genetic defects as well as possible future ways to counteract these defects.
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