Conventional wisdom. Trio whole exome sequencing has been successful over the last five years in identifying underlying genetic etiologies in nearly 50% of patients with epileptic encephalopathies, which is largely owing to the genetic architecture of these conditions. The vast majority of these genetic epilepsies are caused by apparent de novo variants that are present in the patient but not in the mother or father. The conventional wisdom is that the recurrence risk in future pregnancies for parents of an affected child is low to non-existent and traditionally we have quoted a ~1% recurrence risk for future pregnancies. However, a new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine turns this conventional wisdom on its head, identifying detectable somatic mosaicism in approximately 10% of parents tested, which has implications for how we counsel families of children with epileptic encephalopathies – and potentially other genetic conditions due to de novo variants as well. Continue reading
Unravelling the BAFME mystery. The mystery surrounding Benign Adult Familial Myoclonic Epilepsy (BAFME) – also known as Familial Adult Myoclonic Epilepsy (FAME) or Familial Cortical Myoclonic Tremor and Epilepsy (FCMTE) – has persisted for years. BAFME is an autosomal dominant neurological disorder characterized by adult onset of myoclonic/cortical tremor and infrequent seizures. The clinical course is typically considered to be benign. Linkage studies have shown linkage to several regions including 8q24, 2p11.1-q12.2, 3q26.32-q28, and 5p15. A recent publication identified a variant in CTNND2 segregating with disease in a Dutch family with BAFME3, although it remains to be determined how broadly applicable CTNND2 variants are in other individuals with BAFME. Now in an elegant set of experiments by Ishiura and colleagues, a significant proportion of BAFME appears to be solved and is due to expansions of pentanucleotide intronic sequences in SAMD12.
Ion channels and brain malformations. When the “channelopathy” concept first emerged – the idea that dysfunction of neuronal ion channels leads to neurological disease including epilepsy – it seemed implausible that such dysfunction could lead to malformations of cortical development. However, recent research has suggested that ion channel dysfunction may indeed be linked with brain malformations. In 2017, we saw convincing evidence that germline de novo variants in GRIN2B can cause malformations of cortical development. Some suggestive, but less conclusive, evidence has also linked SCN1A and SCN2A to brain malformations. Now Fry and collaborators demonstrate that de novo pathogenic variants in GRIN1 can also cause significant polymicrogyria, expanding the phenotypic spectrum of GRIN1-related disorders. As a disclaimer, I am also a co-author on the publication by Fry and collaborators. Continue reading
Protocadherins. PCDH19-related epilepsy is the second most common genetic epilepsy, behind Dravet syndrome. PCDH19-related epilepsies display the unusual X-linked inheritance pattern in which heterozygous females are affected but hemizygous males are unaffected. Similarly, somatic mosaic males have also been reported. PCDH19 encodes protocadherin 19, a calcium-dependent cell-cell adhesion molecule that is highly expressed in the central nervous system. The long-hypothesized pathomechanism has been cellular interference, although experimental support has so far been lacking. Now, Pederick and collaborators provide evidence that supports the cellular interference mechanism in PCDH19-related epilepsies, bringing us closer to understanding the biology of this unusual genetic epilepsy. Continue reading
KCNA2. We have previously discussed KCNA2 and that pathogenic variants in this gene can lead to a spectrum of neurological phenotypes. Pathogenic KCNA2 variants were first recognized in individuals with early-onset developmental and epileptic encephalopathies and have subsequently been found also in individuals and families with hereditary spastic paraplegia, episodic ataxia, and milder epilepsies. KCNA2 encodes the Kv1.2 potassium channel, a delayed rectifier class of potassium channel that enables neuronal repolarization after an action potential. A new study by Masnada and colleagues provides clinical and functional data from 23 patients, representing the largest KCNA2 cohort reported to date. Within the KCNA2-related encephalopathy spectrum, it now seems that there may be three distinct phenotypes. Continue reading
Synaptic transmission. Over the last several years, pathogenic variants in multiple genes involved in synaptic transmission have been identified in early-onset epilepsies. STXBP1 and STX1B both encode components of the SNARE complex, a complicated protein complex that mediates the fusion of the plasma membrane of the presynapse and the synaptic vesicle to allow for neurotransmitter release. DNM1, encoding the dynamin-1 protein, plays an essential role in recycling synaptic vesicles back into the presynapse after neurotransmitter release. A new study by Myers and collaborators has identified several patients with de novo variants in PPP3CA, which encodes another protein involved in synaptic vesicle recycling, further highlighting the importance of synaptic transmission in the etiology of severe neurodevelopmental disorders. In the interest of full disclosure, I am also a co-author on this study. Continue reading
KCNB1 encephalopathy. Pathogenic variants in KCNB1 were first reported three years ago in three unrelated patients with an early-onset epileptic encephalopathy. Since the initial report, individual patients have been reported with de novo KCNB1 variants, but a comprehensive overview of the KCNB1 encephalopathy clinical picture has been lacking. A recent publication by de Kovel and colleagues provides a comprehensive overview of the clinical features and genetic variants in 26 individuals with KCNB1 encephalopathy, including 16 previously unreported patients, providing novel insights into the phenotype. In this post we will unpack this publication, including what new information about KCNB1 it tells us. Continue reading
Early-onset epilepsies. In recent years, we have discovered several causative genes for severe epilepsies beginning in the first year of life, including KCNQ2, SCN2A, and STXBP1. Several studies have reported a high yield of diagnostic genetic testing, including NGS panel approaches and whole exome sequencing, particularly in patients with seizure onset in the neonatal period where detection rates are often reported to be above 50%. Two recent studies add to the growing pile of evidence that genetic testing, and in particular NGS-based testing methods, are valuable in the diagnostic workup of children presenting with seizures early in life. Will these two studies help push us towards a new consensus regarding genetic testing in epilepsy?
SCN1A phenotypes. Readers of Beyond the Ion Channel will know that we often post about SCN1A, one of the first discovered and most common genetic causes of epileptic encephalopathy. We more or less assume that we understand the phenotypes associated with pathogenic variants in SCN1A: most commonly Dravet syndrome, which is associated with de novo variants, and less commonly genetic epilepsy with febrile seizures plus (GEFS+), associated with inherited missense variants. However, a recent publication by Sadleir and colleagues suggests that the phenotypic spectrum of SCN1A-related disorders may be broader than we have previously appreciated. Are there SCN1A-related epileptic encephalopathies in addition to Dravet syndrome? Continue reading
FamilieSCN2A. On July 14th and 15th, Ingo and I had the pleasure of speaking at the FamilieSCN2a Annual Family and Professional Conference, which was hosted at the DuPont Children’s Hospital in Wilmington, Delaware. This meeting brings together families of children and young adults with SCN2A-related disorders and medical professionals and scientists working in the field, with the purpose of sharing information, learning from one another, and moving the field forward. This post won’t be a comprehensive recap of all that was discussed, since we heard from a broad range of professionals including therapists, electrophysiologists, epidemiologists, neurologists, and geneticists and it would be nearly impossible to sufficiently summarize everything. But I did want to share some of my impressions and thoughts. Here my five things I learned at the FamilieSCN2a Conference. Continue reading