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

GRIN2A encephalopathy, epilepsy-aphasia and rolandic spikes

The GRIN2A triple. The idiopathic focal epilepsies are a group of childhood seizure disorders ranging from mild, self-limiting rolandic epilepsy to severe epileptic encephalopathies. The EEG feature of sharp-slow waves originating from the rolandic region is the unifying feature. As the rolandic region is part of the brain regions involved in speech production, acquired aphasia, i.e. loss of speech, can be a prominent feature in some patients. A strong genetic contribution in idiopathic focal epilepsies is assumed, but the genes involved have remained largely elusive. Now, three back-to-back publications in Nature Genetics highlight a prominent role of GRIN2A, probably the most counter-intuitive epilepsy gene ever found. Continue reading

Copy numbers, seizures and speech

Why does this child with speech delay get an EEG? My first encounter with Landau-Kleffner-Syndrome and continuous spikes and waves during slow sleep (CSWS) was in medical school when my pediatric neurology attending faced me with this very question. I looked at him and basically had no idea. This is when I learned about the spectrum of rolandic epilepsies and how epilepsy interacts with speech. This concept is best explained by going back to the most common epilepsy in children, Benign Rolandic Epilepsy (BRE). And the genetics of BRE and the rolandic spectrum has been anything else but straightforward. Continue reading