From unaffected to Dravet Syndrome – extreme SCN1A phenotypes in a large GEFS+ family

The two faces of SCN1A. Even though the range of phenotypes associated with mutations in SCN1A can be conceptualized as a continuum, there are usually two distinct entities in clinical practice: the severe, epileptic encephalopathy of Dravet Syndrome due to de novo mutations and the usually mild fever-related epilepsies in autosomal dominant GEFS+ families. While Dravet Syndrome can also be seen in some families with Genetic Epilepsy with Febrile Seizures Plus (GEFS+), this is a rare phenomenon; there is usually little overlap between Dravet Syndrome and GEFS+. Within the Israel Epilepsy Family Project, we came across such a family with overlapping phenotypes. This recently published large GEFS+ family probably has the widest phenotypic range reported to date. Continue reading

CHD2 encephalopathy as a novel Dravet-like epilepsy syndrome

Negative for SCN1A. Today the first major paper by the EuroEPINOMICS-RES consortium was published in the American Journal of Human Genetics online. As you might recall from some of our previous posts, RES has worked on gene identification in patients with Dravet Syndrome negative for SCN1A using trio exome sequencing. A significant fraction of patients turned out to be positive for SCN1A with mutations initially missed using conventional sequencing techniques. However, there was also a second gene that we discovered in an initial cohort of patients with SCN1A-negative Dravet Syndrome. This gene was CHD2.  While working on the functional studies in zebrafish, CHD2 was also discovered as a novel gene for epileptic encephalopathies by both Carvill and collaborators and the Epi4K consortium. These parallel discoveries clearly highlight the relevance of this gene in human epilepsy and suggest that CHD2 mutations might be more common than mutations in many of the other candidate genes discovered in the last 12 months. In addition, when looking closer, the phenotype of the patients was not exactly Dravet Syndrome, but might represent a novel fever-related epileptic encephalopathy. Continue reading

Temperature rising: 17q12 microduplications and GEFS+

GEFS+, meet CNV. Microduplications at 17q12 have been identified in various neurodevelopmental disorders and in some unaffected individuals, a pattern familiar from other structural genomic variants such as microdeletions at 16p13.11 and 15q11.2. In contrast to the corresponding microdeletion, most 17q12 microduplications are inherited. This suggests that the microduplication is a risk factor, but does not fully explain the phenotype. In a recent paper in Neurology, Hardies and collaborators look at the families of 17q12 microduplication carriers with epilepsy. And this is when they noticed something strange. Continue reading

Dravet Syndrome, zebrafish and clemizole

Modeling disease. Animal models for genetic disease might help in discovering new treatment options, especially when a large number of drugs or compounds can be tested in this model. In a recent paper in Nature Communications, a zebrafish model for Dravet Syndrome is used for medium-throughput screening of compounds approved by the Foods and Drugs Administration (FDA). The authors identify a single compound that is capable of abolishing behavioral and electrographic seizures in SCN1A-deficient zebrafish. Continue reading

The endozepine mystery

Compound unknown. GABA is the main inhibitory neurotransmitter in the Central Nervous System and its effect is mediated through GABA receptors. Benzodiazepines are compounds that reinforce the action of GABA in the brain, which gives them antiepileptic properties. Consequently, benzodiazepines are one of the most common groups of antiepileptic drugs used to interrupt acute epileptic seizures. Interestingly, benzodiazepines have their own binding site on the GABA receptor, suggesting that they might actually mimic the effect of another, yet unknown substance that is present in the brain. The identity of this mysterious substance, the endogenous benzodiazepine or endozepine, has been one the romantic mysteries of neuroscience. Now, a recent paper in Neuron provides strong evidence that products of the DBI gene are the long-sought endozepine. Continue reading

FS and FS+ are two distinct diseases, as suggested by twins

GEFS+ reloaded. The genetics of Febrile Seizures (FS) is one big mystery. Even though large families have been reported and multiple linkage studies have been performed, no single susceptibility gene for Febrile Seizures is known. This is somehow surprising, given that FS is by far the most common epilepsy syndrome. In contrast to common FS, genetic research has been very successful in families with Genetic Epilepsy with Febrile Seizures Plus (GEFS+), where Febrile Seizures Plus (FS+) are the most striking feature in families.  Ever since the definition of the GEFS+ spectrum was established, the distinction from common FS has been a matter of debate. Now a twin study in Epilepsy Research suggests FS and FS+ might actually be two very distinct diseases with little genetic overlap. Continue reading

Eyelid myoclonia with absences meets GEFS+

Running in the family. Eyelid myoclonia with absences (EMA) is a rare generalized epilepsy syndrome characterized by brief episodes of myoclonic jerks that are often accompanied by an upward deviation of the eyeballs and an extension of the head. The EEG shows generalized spike-wave discharges during these episodes, and most patients are highly photosensitive. Therefore, it would be natural to think of EMA as related to other classical generalized epilepsies including Childhood Absence Epilepsy or Juvenile Myoclonic Epilepsy. Now, a recent paper in Epilepsia shows that the families of patients with EMA tell a slightly different story. Continue reading

Missed SCN1A mutations in Dravet Syndrome – a matter of degrees

Back from AES. I have just come back from the 66th Annual Meeting of the American Epilepsy Society and I would like to share some of the most recent findings that were presented at this meeting. Since we felt that our presentation on the “re-discovery” of SCN1A mutations in SCN1A-negative patients with Dravet Syndrome received quite some attention, I thought that I would share this part of our presentation as a brief screencast. In particular, I would like to thank Anna-Kaisa Anttonen and Anna-Elina Lehesjoki for providing us with the trace files. And of course thanks to everybody in RES who was involved in this.

CACNA1A variants as genetic modifiers in Dravet Syndrome

Genetic modifiers. Dravet Syndrome, formerly Severe Myoclonic Epilepsy of Infancy (SMEI) is a severe epileptic encephalopathy starting in the first year of life. More than 80% of cases of Dravet Syndrome are caused by loss-of-functions mutations in SCN1A, a voltage-gated sodium channel predominantly expressed on GABAergic interneurons. Now, a recent paper in Neurobiological Disorders investigates the role of CACNA1A variants as possible genetic modifiers in Dravet Syndrome. Continue reading

Mutations in the same residue and phenotypic consequences in SCN1A

The link between a mutation and the corresponding phenotype in genetic epilepsies is sometimes not trivial. Mutations in the same gene can lead to different phenotypes (phenotypic heterogeneity) and different genes can lead to the same phenotype (genetic heterogeneity). These issues appear to be particularly prominent in some forms of seizure disorders. One of the many active research fields in genetics is studying whether environmental factors or other mutations lead to the development of a given syndrome.

Generalized epilepsy with febrile seizures plus (GEFS+) and severe myoclonic epilepsy of infancy (SMEI) can be due to the mutations in the same residue of the alpha-subunit of a voltage gated sodium channel encoded by SCN1A. Japanese researches now report in Epilepsia that the interaction with the beta-subunit of the channel rescues the GEFS+ associated mutant A1685V but not A1685D considered to be responsible for SMEI.

It’s a small step up on our understanding of such mutants. Computational analysis suggests that both variants have strong effects. E.g. Polyphen-2 predicts both to be probably damaging. It will still require further research on interactions to assess the differences. Part of this research is carried out in EuroEPINOMICS projects.