Chromodomain. Today is International CHD2 Awareness Day and we are publishing this blog post in time for our CHD2 webinar where we present the result of a four-week sprint to analyze harmonized clinical data. We also updated our gene page on CHD2, which was long overdue. In addition to becoming a more well-known gene, here are three things to know about CHD2 in 2023. Continue reading
Between the ion channels. Rather than going “beyond the ion channel,” in this post, we aim to look between them. We want to dive into a study where examining the group of epilepsy-related sodium channels was initially more informative than the single gene itself—even when that gene was SCN1A, the most established epilepsy gene. A recurrent SCN1A variant turned out to be part of an emerging, previously underappreciated gain-of-function spectrum. Here, we discuss the unusual phenotype of SCN1A gain-of-function variants and how we are currently working on integrating information on paralogs into the official ACMG variant curation criteria.
Shaw. It has been a while since we have written about novel gene discoveries in the epilepsies, so I wanted to start this blog post with a general introduction to the genes that are still undiscovered, waiting to be identified. Currently, we assume that there are several hundred genetic etiologies for human epilepsies “out there” that we have not characterized yet. One of the most recent members to join the group of epilepsy genes is KCNC2 that we described in a recent publication. KCNC2, coding for a member of the Shaw-related voltage-gated potassium channels, presents with a phenotypic spectrum that is different from many other epilepsy genes. Continue reading
Disease burden. One aspect of neurodevelopmental disorders that we cover insufficiently on our blog is how epilepsy affects families. Not just the symptoms of seizures and developmental delay, but how the overall burden of developmental and epileptic encephalopathies (DEEs) affects the quality of life of patients. In a recent study, we took a first step towards measuring quality of life and assessing to what degree seizure control and quality of life in DEEs are related. To our surprise, we found that objective seizure control and quality of life are unrelated. In contrast, quality of life is related to a more nuanced measure, the number of days that were minimally disrupted by seizures.
CNV. There are different forms of genetic variation and historically, our ability to query the entire exome or genome is a relatively recent development. However, the first type of genetic variation that could be assessed in the epilepsies in large cohorts were copy number variations (CNV), small gains or losses of chromosomal materials. In a recent study, the entire Epi25 cohort was analyzed for CNVs, giving a long-needed update on the role of the structural genomic variations in various forms of epilepsies and highlighting that the overall landscape of CNVs in the epilepsies is well understood and delineated. With up to 3% of individuals with epilepsies carrying some of the recurrent CNVs, this type of genomic variation remains a rare, but important source of genetic morbidity in the epilepsies. Continue reading
The missing ion channel. A little more than two years ago, we wrote about our discovery of SCN3A as a novel disease gene in epileptic encephalopathies. At the time, SCN3A was the missing ion channel, the only brain-expressed voltage gated sodium channel that did not have a clear gene-disease relationship. However, since the initial discovery of SCN3A as a disease gene, both the phenotypic spectrum and variant landscape have expanded considerably. In a recent publication, we updated our knowledge based on information of 22 individuals with SCN3A-related disorders, which showed brain malformations in more than 75% of individuals and an unusual clustering of pathogenic variants in parts of the Nav1.3 channel. Continue reading
HCN1 update. Hyperpolarization-activated cation channels (HCN) are involved in neuronal pacemaker activity and regulate neuronal excitability through hyperpolarization-activated Ih current. In 2014 de novo missense variants in HCN1 were identified in five unrelated individuals with a Dravet Syndrome-like developmental and epileptic encephalopathy (DEE). However, in the intervening four years relatively little additional evidence has emerged regarding the role of HCN1 in epilepsy. Now, a recent publication in Brain identifies additional individuals with HCN1-related epilepsies and significantly expands the clinical spectrum beyond Dravet-like DEE. Continue reading
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
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
EEs. The concept of epileptic encephalopathy refers to a process where epileptic activity impairs overall brain function, including cognitive function, language, and behavior. In a recent commentary in Epilepsia, our current use and misuse of the concept of epileptic encephalopathy is reviewed critically. In summary, the authors criticize that epileptic encephalopathy is used as a diagnostic category rather than a description of the actual epileptic process, suggesting that another term may be necessary for the group of patients with intellectual disability and epilepsy where we often find a genetic etiology. In this blog post, I would like to plead guilty on behalf of the epilepsy genetics community for having misused the concept of epileptic encephalopathies for almost a decade. And we have done this for at least three different reasons. Continue reading