Surrendering to genomic noise – de novo mutations in schizophrenia

Heterogeneity. Family-based exome sequencing or trio exome sequencing for de novo mutations is currently the method of choice to identify genetic risk factors in neurodevelopmental disorders. However, given the increasingly recognized variability in the human genome, the hunt for causative de novo mutations is sometimes an uphill battle – it is impossible to distinguish causal mutations from random events unless genes are affected repeatedly. In a recent publication in Nature, Fromer and colleagues present the most comprehensive search for de novo mutations in schizophrenia to date. They observe an incredible genetic heterogeneity that reflects the genetic architecture of neurodevelopmental disorders. Continue reading

Papers of the week – 15q11 duplications, Olig1 & Automated decision-making


A productive week in epilepsy genetics.  Scientists and editors were certainly busy this week reporting novel variants and deletions as well the experimental and statistical advances for their interpretation.

A de novo GRIN2A missensmutation in early-onset epileptic encephalopathy. We and others have associated variants affecting the GRIN2A gene with a range of childhood focal epilepsy syndromes. Continue reading

Papers of the week – WES Meta analysis, Dravet mice & large sequencing studies

Bild1Time flies – already thursday night again.  Here are updates on study designs to identify rare pathogenic mutations in neurodevelopment diseases, an epilepsy animal model study as well as novel statistical frameworks for large genetic screens.

The placebo effect. In a recent paper in Science Translational Medicine the group of Kam-Hansen investigated the effect of altered placebo and drug labeling changes and its outcome in patients with episodic migraine. Their results suggest that the placebo accounted for more than 50% of the drug effect.

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2013 in review: top three lists and the gene finding of the year

Gene of the year. Let’s take a minute to look back at the very busy year of 2013. There were major advances in many areas of epilepsy genetics. First and foremost, massive (and I mean massive) progress has been made in the genetics of the epileptic encephalopathies, where de novo mutations have been identified as a major source of genetic morbidity. Secondly, the new technologies have made it possible to identify several novel genes for various epilepsy types. Out of these genes, we have again selected the most important finding in 2013. And the gene finding of the year is… Continue reading

Navigating the epilepsiome – live from Tübingen

2D. I am writing this post during our EuroEPINOMICS meeting in Tübingen listening to presentation from CoGIE, the EuroEPINOMICS project working on IGE/GGE and Rolandic Epilepsies and RES, the project on rare epilepsies. At some point during the afternoon, I made my selection for the best graph during the presentations today – an overview of the conservation space of epilepsy genes. Continue reading

Beneath the surface – the role of small inherited CNVs in autism

Grey zone. Structural genomic variants or copy number variations (CNV) can be reliably assessed using array comparative genomic hybridization (array CGH) or Single Nucleotide Polymorphism (SNP) arrays.  However, for deletions or duplications smaller than 50-100 kB, these technologies have a poor detection rate with many false positive and false negative findings unless platforms are used that target specific candidate regions. Exome analysis, on the other hand, is capable of assessing genetic variation reliably on the single base-pair level. Between both technologies, there is a grey zone of structural genomic variants that are difficult to detect; CNVs smaller than 50 kB are often difficult to assess, and the extent and pathogenic role of these small CNVs is unclear. Now, a recent paper in the American Journal of Human Genetics manages to detect small CNVs through exome data. Their analysis in patients with autism, parents, and unaffected siblings suggests a contribution of small inherited CNVs to the overall autism risk. Continue reading

Mutation intolerance – why some genes withstand mutations and others don’t

The river of genetic variants. The era of high-throughput sequencing has given us several unexpected insights into the human genome. One of these insights is the observation that mutations or variations can occur in parts of our genome without any major consequences. Every individual is a “knockout” for at least two genes in the human genome. This means that in every individual, both copies of a single gene are disrupted through mutations or small deletions or duplications. In addition, there are dozens, if not hundreds, of genes with disruptive mutations that affect only a single copy of the gene. Similar mutations in specific disease-associated genes, however, will invariably result in an early onset genetic disorder. This comparison already shows that the genes in the human genome differ with respect to the amount of disruptive genetic variation they can tolerate. A recent study in PLOS Genetics now tries to catalogue the genes in the human genome by assessing their mutation intolerance based on the genetic variation seen in large-scale exome datasets. Many genes for neurodevelopmental disorders are highly intolerant to mutations. Furthermore, some genes for monogenic epilepsies show surprising results in this assessment. Continue reading

Less is more – gene identification in epileptic encephalopathies through targeted resequencing

Exome no more. Over the last 15 months, we have repeatedly discussed how exome sequencing or genome sequencing is applied to neurodevelopmental disorders in order to discover new candidate genes and to assess the role of known candidate genes. We have also wondered sometimes whether exome sequencing is the most straightforward approach. Now – outpacing the two large international consortia using exome sequencing in epileptic encephalopathies – a recent study in Nature Genetics uses a different approach to uncover the genetic basis in 10% of patients with epileptic encephalopathies.  Targeted resequencing or gene panel analysis is a hybrid technology between candidate gene sequencing and next generation sequencing and focuses only on a subset of candidate genes. While their study provides a comprehensive overview over the genetics of rare epilepsy syndromes, it raises the question whether the era of large-scale exome sequencing is coming to a natural end. Continue reading

Exome sequencing in epileptic encephalopathies – a classification of de novo mutations

Trio-sequencing your clinic. From the perspective of a child neurology clinic, I often wonder how much information we would gain if we performed trio exome sequencing for de novo mutations systematically in all our patients with difficult-to-treat epilepsies. Many of these patients have epilepsies that are difficult to classify and they have not been included in our existing EuroEPINOMICS working groups on defined syndromes. Now, a recent publication in Epilepsia gives us an idea what we will find if we perform family-based exome sequencing in patients with unclassified epileptic encephalopathies. Basically, you will find SCN1A and CDKL5 plus mutations in several genes that are likely pathogenic. But there is much more to this issue, which motivated me to come up with a classification scheme for epilepsy-related de novo events.  Continue reading

Axiomatic – identifying a novel epilepsy gene that was hidden right before your eyes

The Hague, winter of 1997. Last week challenged my most basic beliefs, which reminded me of “Axiomatic”, a collection of science fiction short stories by Greg Egan. While on holiday in the Netherlands in 1997, I had bought this book in the Den Haag Centraal bookstore, and subsequently lost it or gave it away. I only remembered the title three weeks ago, and ordered it online. The book arrived at the same time that news from Antwerp twisted my brain. In the signature story of “Axiomatic” with the same title, a man acquires a nano-robot based implant that allows him to change his innermost convictions (I told you that it’s science fiction, right?). He basically wants to have the courage to kill the man who murdered his wife. After carrying out his revenge and after the effect of the axiomatic implant has worn off, he starts craving for more, since he is missing the certainty in his life that the implant had given him. I needed to adjust my deeply held expectation on how to find de novo mutations after Tania, a PhD student in the Antwerp lab, had pulled out a de novo mutation in one of our trios that Denovogear had missed. This mutation turned out to be another hit in a gene that we had seen before. Continue reading