Into the epilepsy phenome

Genome to phenome. Meaningful patterns in human diseases are often only revealed when looking at larger groups of patients. Over the last decade, we have figured out how to make genetics scalable to fit this need. High-throughput genetics can now be performed on an industrial scale with the possibility of assessing almost every base pair in the human genome in thousands of people. Phenotyping, however, has remained a non-scalable task, requiring repeated review, extraction, and interpretation of phenotypic data. In addition, there is no agreed-upon format for phenotypic data that parallels the standards we have in genetics. To overcome this problem, projects such as the Epilepsy Phenome/Genome Project (EPGP) have collected systematic, standardized phenotypic data upfront on every patient. In a recent study in Neurology that analyzed familial clustering of phenotypes within this dataset, we get a first view of what working with the epilepsy phenome may look like. We were asked to provide an editorial for this study where we emphasized that systematic phenotyping in large datasets can reveal phenotypic patterns that are beyond our understanding of disease genetics.  Basically, the phenome suggests patterns that are contradictory to what we think genes would do. 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

The three challenges of epilepsy precision medicine

Half Moon Bay. I am on my way back from the Precision Medicine Workshop at Half Moon Bay, realizing again that blog posts from scientific meetings are often boring and difficult to write. However, let me try to put together a few thoughts about this meeting. Basically, there are three challenges for epilepsy genetics in the era of precision medicine. Continue reading

Dynamin 1, the synapse, and why epilepsy gene discovery is now officially over

E2 consortium. Infantile Spasms and Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome are two epilepsy syndromes with a strong genetic component. De novo mutations play an important role in genetic epilepsies. However, given the overall mutational noise in the human genome, telling causative genes from innocent bystanders is difficult. In the largest and most comprehensive analysis so far, our E2 consortium just published a joint analysis of 356 patient-parent trios, which were analyzed by exome sequencing. In addition to implicating DNM1, GABBR2, FASN, and RYR3, this publication sends a clear message: the age of gene discovery in epilepsy is over – from now on, genes will find themselves. Let me tell you what I mean by this. Continue reading

Infantile Spasms/Lennox-Gastaut genetics goes transatlantic

Joining forces. The EuroEPINOMICS-RES consortium and Epi4K/EPGP are currently joining forces for genetic studies on epileptic encephalopathies. A first collaborative study focuses on de novo mutations in Infantile Spasms and Lennox-Gastaut-Syndrome. In the last two years, after decades of disappointment, we have finally managed to accomplish a breakthrough in understanding the genetic basis of epileptic encephalopathies. The method of trio-based exome sequencing works amazingly well to identify the genetic cause, and the field currently has the crucial momentum to reach the next level of research. Let’s briefly review why we need international collaborations to disentangle the genetic architecture of the epileptic encephalopathies. Continue reading

Epileptic encephalopathies: de novo mutations take center stage

The de novo paradigm. De novo mutations play a significant role in many neurodevelopmental disorders including autism, intellectual disability and schizophrenia. In addition, several smaller studies have indicated a role for de novo mutations in severe epilepsies. However, unless known genes for human epilepsies are involved, findings from large-scale genetic studies are difficult to interpret. De novo mutations are also seen in unaffected individuals and only very few genes are observed more than once. Now, a publication in Nature by the Epi4K and EPGP collaborators uses a novel framework to tell pathogenic mutations from genomic noise. Their study provides very strong evidence for a predominant role of de novo mutations in Infantile Spasms and Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome. Continue reading

What’s in a phenotype? – the EuroEPINOMICS BENCH database

The backbone. As we have started a new round for BENCH introductory sessions with new collaborators, I thought that it might be timely to talk a little bit about our BENCH phenotype database and the concepts behind it. In addition to the purely technical aspects, there is a more fundamental question behind this: how do we want to document and store epilepsy phenotypes for research purposes, how do we find the balance between precision and efficiency? Continue reading