Research parasites and symbiotes

Parasitic. In the dramatic language that was somewhat reminiscent of the current US primaries, the New England Journal of Medicine warned of an emerging class of researchers referred to as research parasites, researchers who had nothing to do with an initial study, but re-analyze data without being connected to the initial study design, possibly for their own purposes. The NEJM editorial was accompanied by a call for collaborative research on a coordinated basis rather than analyzing data without working with the researchers who were initially involved in the generation of the data. Let’s discuss whether genetics is currently under threat from research parasite infestation and whether this may actually be a good thing. Continue reading

DNM1 encephalopathy – interneurons, endocytosis, and study group

Dynamin 1. De novo mutations in DNM1 coding for Dynamin 1 are increasingly recognized as a cause for epileptic encephalopathies. However, given the role of Dynamin 1 in endocytosis in a large number of cells, the precise mechanisms how mutations may result in seizures are poorly understood. Now two recent publications in PLOS Genetics and Neurology Genetics explore the functional effects of epilepsy-related DNM1 mutations. The publication of both manuscripts is also a timely reminder to announce our international DNM1 study group that has the aim to better understand the phenotype of this disease. Continue reading

GABRB3, 15q dups, and CNVs from exomes

GABAergic. Let’s start out with a provocative statement. There is a single gene that may explain more cases of Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome (LGS) and Infantile Spasms (IS) than you would expect, rivalling SCN1A for the most common gene found in this group of patients. It’s a gene that you are probably aware of but that you may think to be a very rare finding. In a recent publication in Annals of Neurology, the Epi4K consortium published their recent analysis of copy number variations that were derived from exome data. Combining de novo mutations and copy number variations points to GABRB3 as a major player in LGS and IS, explaining probably more than 2% of patients. Let’s find out about the twilight zone, strategies to obtain structural variants from exomes, and the re-emergence of the 15q duplication syndrome. Continue reading

Exomes on the go – adventures with wANNOVAR

Going cloud. This post is about my most recent discovery when I was trying to modernize some of the bioinformatics tools that I had on my laptop. My experience with variant annotation is a good example of the latest trend in bioinformatics: replacing precise, but difficult-to-use tools by web-based convenience – I didn’t need to install anything after all. This is a brief journey into the world of variant annotation, taking advantage of my new favorite tool, wANNOVAR and applying it to the Epi4K dataset. Continue reading

The microdeletion landscape of Genetic Generalized Epilepsy

CNV. Structural genomic variations or Copy Number Variations (CNVs) significantly contribute to the genetic architecture of many neurodevelopmental disorders. However, given the enormous variation in the human genome in healthy individuals, the precise contribution of CNVs remains poorly understood. In a recent publication in PLOS Genetics, we were able to assess the microdeletion architecture in more than 1,000 patients with Genetic Generalized Epilepsy (GGE) compared to more than 5,000 controls. We found that microdeletions occur almost twice as often in GGE patients compared to controls, an analysis that revealed both known suspects and interesting candidates. Continue reading

How to get started in epilepsy genetics – The Channelopathist’s third birthday

Happy birthday. The Channelopathist turned three last week, i.e. exactly three years ago we started writing regular blog posts on epilepsy and genes, starting with a post on how SCN2A was rediscovered in neurodevelopmental disorders. Since we had many new subscribers last year, I thought that I could use this opportunity to write a brief post on how you can get started on Beyond The Ion Channel and how you can navigate our blog. Continue reading

Epi25 – breaking the genetic sound barrier

25,000 genomes. The epilepsy community is currently preparing for the largest sequencing project in the epilepsies so far, responding to a call by the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI). If funded, the Epi25 project will allow us to begin sequencing 25,000 individuals with epilepsy, helping us to achieve the next, necessary level for gene discovery in human epilepsies. Here are some of the reasons why we need Epi25 and why you should be part of it. Continue reading

Flickering lights, endophenotypes, and EEG genetics – CHD2 in photosensitivity

Heritable. Many epilepsy syndromes have signature EEG traits, and these traits are thought to have a strong genetic component. The endophenotype concept suggests that using these epilepsy-related traits in genetic studies will facilitate gene discovery, a concept that has failed us so far in epilepsy research, unfortunately. Now, in a recent publication in Brain, we were able to demonstrate that variants in CHD2 predispose to photosensitivity, an abnormal cortical response to flickering light. Finally, after several decades of persisting difficulties, there is some progress in the field of EEG genetics. Continue reading

Sequencing for developmental disorders on a national level – the DDD(UK) study

DDD. It’s probably the most impressive of all exome sequencing studies of 2014 and I almost missed it. Late December last year, the Deciphering Developmental Disorders study was published in Nature, reporting the genetic findings in more than 1,000 patient-parent trios, which were collected in a systematic nation-wide approach in the United Kingdom and Ireland. The analysis of more than 1,600 de novo mutations in this cohort provides another fascinating view into the genetics of neurodevelopmental disorders, independently confirming the role of DNM1 and pointing out several genes that act through either activating or dominant-negative mutations. Let me guide you through a study that comes to the sobering conclusion that even entire nations are too small to understand the genetics of neurodevelopmental disease. Continue reading

Heat at the synapse – STX1B mutations in fever-associated epilepsies

Febrile Seizures. The discovery of the genes for fever-associated epilepsies was one of the most relevant milestones in epilepsy genetics. Discovery of the underlying genes including SCN1A, SCN1B and GABRG2 was tightly linked to the development of the Genetic/Generalized Epilepsy with Febrile Seizures Plus (GEFS+) concept, describing the spectrum of epilepsy phenotypes seen in families with these mutations. Gene discovery in GEFS+, however, has slowed down in recent years, and no further causative genes had been identified for more than a decade. Now, in a recent paper in Nature Genetics, mutations in STX1B are found as a novel cause for fever-associated epilepsies. Continue reading