E2 – collaborations and lessons learnt

E2. The advent of next generation sequencing allowed unimagined scope for large scale genetic studies. It quickly became clear that whilst new technologies could be used to solve single families, major advances would only occur by collaboration. This led to the formation of a number of Consortia – in the United States EPGP leading onto Epi4K and in Europe EuroEPINOMICS and EpiRES etc as well as a number of smaller consortia. Even with these multicentre collaborations it was clear that “bigger was better”, and attempts were made to try and synergize efforts across continents.  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 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

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

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

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

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