The day I fell in love with Varbank

De novo. Three months ago, I performed a trio exome de novo analysis in a patient-parent trio. From my iPad, in a hotel room in Paris. When I got home a few days later, I was excited to tell my students that the analysis worked. They looked at me slightly confused: “What’s the big deal? We had the analysis complete already a week or so ago.” Last year at this time, I was proud that our lab had established a fully functional de novo analysis pipeline. Suddenly, it’s not a big deal anymore. What happened? Let me tell you about Varbank. Continue reading

Three reasons why exomes are like MRIs – and three reasons why they are not

Exome rounds. How will next-generation sequencing technologies impact on patient care in the future? What role will genetic analyses play in routine health care? Sometimes, the possible role of genetic information is compared to the role of MRI imaging, including the general expertise that is required of clinicians who apply these technologies but are not necessarily dedicated experts in the field. Here are three interesting parallels between exomes and MRI – and three examples how the impact of these technologies differs drastically. Continue reading

How to find recessive disease genes for epileptic encephalopathies

The E2 story continues. There has been major progress in identifying the role of de novo mutations in infantile spasms and other epileptic encephalopathies. Over the last two years, more than 20 new genes for epileptic encephalopathies were discovered and we have good evidence suggesting that de novo mutations play a major role in these disorders. Moreover, we have gotten a good sense on how complicated it can be to call a de novo mutation pathogenic given the flood of rare genetic variants in the human genome. However, de novo mutations are not what we think about clinically when assessing a patient with new-onset epileptic encephalopathy. In a clinical setting, we are often concerned about underlying metabolic disorders, many of which are recessive. Accordingly, we felt that the next task of the E2 consortium was to assess the role of inherited variants in epileptic encephalopathies. Just to tell you in advance, it is not as easy as it sounds.

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Publications of the week – 15q13.3 deletions, POLG1 and liver failure, and twins

Update. In the last few weeks, we have tried to catch up with some recent publications in the field that mainly focused on autism spectrum disorder. This week’s publications, in contrast, cover a wide range of topics including the phenotypic spectrum of the 15q13.3 microdeletions, the importance of POLG1 in valproate-induced liver failure, and the most recent updates on epilepsy and twins. Continue reading

The 1003 possible autism genes – a matter of constraint

Overview. There have been numerous publications on de novo mutations in autism and intellectual disability over the last three years. Many of these studies struggle to distinguish signal from noise, and the plethora of findings leaves the reader wondering which genes are bona fide autism genes and in which cases the evidence is limited. A recent paper in Nature Genetics uses a new metric to assess expected versus observed de novo mutations in more than published 1000 autism patient-parent trios – and the answers appear to be straightforward. Continue reading

The common variants in our genome that predispose to epilepsy – the ILAE GWAS

ILAE GWAS. This is one of the rare occasions when I can write on behalf of the ILAE Genetics Commission and discuss a recent publication. Earlier this week, the ILAE Consortium on complex epilepsies came online in Lancet Neurology. This study is a large meta-analysis of almost 9,000 patients and 26,000 controls looking at common genetic variants predisposing to common epilepsies, including the Idiopathic/Genetic Generalized Epilepsies and focal epilepsies. In a nutshell, when looking for common variants predisposing to the epilepsies, the answer is surprisingly simple. Continue reading

Typical versus atypical: exome sequencing in pediatric epilepsies

Exome mining. Trio exome sequencing is both easy and difficult at the same time. If you manage to identify a plausible de novo mutation, the job is pretty much done. However, if no plausible de novo is found, things can become complex very quickly. Some of the known genes for recessive disorders are quite variable and therefore difficult to interpret. Also, we know little about the overall spectrum of the recessive disorders and the plausibility of atypical cases. A recent paper in Clinical Genetics takes a comprehensive approach to the genetic basis of pediatric epilepsies by exome sequencing. The authors include the analysis of recessive and compound heterozygous variants, and they follow up on some of the biomarkers that establish the diagnosis. There are some surprising findings. Continue reading