Understanding the genetics of FIRES

FIRES. Without a clear trigger, some children suddenly develop super-refractory status epilepticus, ongoing seizure activity that is difficult to control despite maximal therapy in the intensive care unit. In cases when the onset of seizures is preceded by a febrile illness, these rare conditions are referred to as FIRES (Febrile Infection-Related Epilepsy Syndrome). Understanding why children develop FIRES has been an ongoing quest, and the underlying mechanisms are poorly understood. FIRES shares many features with some of the known genetic developmental and epileptic encephalopathies. In a recent study, we tried to understand the genetic basis of FIRES using exome sequencing and HLA sequencing. We were unable to identify genetic causes for FIRES, but we found interesting candidate genes and demonstrated that the genetic architecture of FIRES is substantially different from what we see in other genetic epilepsies. Continue reading

Exome sequencing in the rolandic epilepsies

Beyond GRIN2A. The childhood epilepsies traditionally referred to as Benign Rolandic Epilepsy (BRE) or benign epilepsy with centro-temporal spikes (BECTS) have had various names in the past, which reflects somewhat the difficulties of fully putting this group of seizure disorders into clear categories. While most presentations are relatively mild and self-limited childhood epilepsies, a sizeable fraction of these non-lesional focal epilepsies have an atypical course. The genetics of the rolandic epilepsies and the related epilepsy-aphasia spectrum are tightly linked to GRIN2A, the most prominent gene in this group of conditions. However, are there other genes? A recent publication examined the genetic basis of self-limited focal epilepsies of childhood and found interesting new candidate genes in atypical presentations. Continue reading

The Cavatica experience – running epilepsy exomes in the cloud

End of the year. The final weeks of the year are always a time when my curiosity for bioinformatics takes over. Four years ago, I was trying to teach myself sufficient command line and bioinformatics to run Denovogear on my computer. Now the field has moved on, from command line language to solutions that aim at bringing data closer to researchers. I hijacked a platform that was initially built for cancer research, CHOP’s Cavatica platform that was developed with Seven Bridges Genomics. In the same way as a few years ago, I started out with a simple question: Can I take an exome completely apart and then re-analyze it to find the SCN1A mutation in DRA1? Continue reading

Here is why CADD has become the preferred variant annotation tool

Variant annotation. In both clinical practice and within existing research projects, we’re often faced with the issue of telling whether a given variant is benign or whether it is pathogenic. In silico prediction tools are designed to help this decision making process. However, there are so many of them and it is often hard to assess which tool works best. In a 2014 publication in Nature Genetics, the CADD score was introduced as comprehensive tool that aims to take the results of many known prediction tools into account. Follow me on a journey that takes us on hyperplanes, support vector machines and every possible variant in the human genome. Continue reading

Robinsoe Crusoe, NFXL1, and speech delay

Founder variant. Specific language impairment (SLI) is a common neurodevelopmental disorder, presenting as delays in acquiring language skills in children who have no hearing loss or other developmental delays. There is a strong genetic component, but the genetic architecture of SLI is entirely unknown. In a recent publication in PLOS Genetics, exome sequencing is performed in the founder population of the Robinson Crusoe Island where SLI is common. Using a combination of exome sequencing and association study, the autors identify a variant In NFXL1 as a plausible candidate for language delay. Continue reading

Cause or coincidence – recessive SCN1A variants in Dravet Syndrome

Recessive epilepsies. Dravet Syndrome is one of the most prominent genetic epilepsies and presents in the first year of life with prolonged fever-associated seizures. Haploinsufficiency of SCN1A, either through mutations or deletions, is the major cause of Dravet Syndrome. In a recent publication in the European Journal of Pediatric Neurology, two families with recessive Dravet Syndrome and biallelic SCN1A variants are reported. Let’s have a look at how to interpret these findings. 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

SCN8A encephalopathy – and how it differs from Dravet Syndrome

Nav1.6. For some reason, SCN8A always met some resistance. In contrast to other epilepsy genes, it took a while for the community to embrace this gene as a genuine cause of epileptic encephalopathies. A recent publication in Neurology now investigates the phenotypic spectrum of SCN8A encephalopathy – and points out important features that distinguish this condition from Dravet Syndrome. Continue reading

PURA mutations and when diverse phenotypes become a single syndrome

Reverse. With the increasing amount of genetic information available in patients with various neurodevelopmental syndromes, some genes will be observed more than once in patients. In a recent study in the Journal of Medical Genetics, the authors trace back the phenotypes of individuals carrying de novo mutations in PURA. However, there seems to be a wide range of clinical features with a seemingly inverse genotype-phenotype correlation. Continue reading

SETBP1, ZMYND11, and the power of joint exome and CNV analysis

Parallel worlds. There are two fields of genetics for neurodevelopmental disorders that currently produce large amounts of data – the field of copy number variation analysis and the field of exome sequencing. When assigning pathogenicity, information from both genetic technologies are rarely considered jointly. A recent study in Nature Genetics now performs a combined analysis of a large CNV and exome datasets in intellectual disability and autism. Interestingly, this method produces robust results, highlighting novel causative genes. Continue reading