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

EFHC1 – retiring an epilepsy gene

The era of gene retirement. As of 2015, the list of epilepsy genes has shrunk by one. EFHC1, a gene initially proposed to be a monogenic cause of Juvenile Myoclonic Epilepsy, is no longer an epilepsy gene. A recent study in Epilepsia finds that EFHC1 variants initially thought to be pathogenic are found in unaffected controls of the same ancestry. Follow us on one of the most perplexing journeys that modern day neurogenetics has to offer, and the retirement of the first epilepsy gene. Continue reading

TADA – a joint analysis of de novo and inherited risk factors in autism

Beyond de novo. One of the most robust ways to interpret exome data is the analysis of de novo mutations. However, in addition to the 1-2 de novo events that we can identify in every individual, there is a plethora of inherited variants that often look suspicious. Unfortunately, other than looking at monogenic recessive disorders, we are often incapable of understanding the importance of these inherited variants and tend to ignore them. A recent publication in Nature now overcomes this difficulty by applying a joint analysis of inherited and de novo variants in autism. Continue reading

From zero to one hundred in the genetics of Febrile Seizures

Finally. Only a few months ago, we wondered what happened to the genetics of Febrile Seizures, given that there was a paucity of publications in this field. Now, a recent publication in Nature Genetics presents the first well-powered genome-wide association study in Febrile Seizures in almost 2,000 patients, including a large subgroup of patients with Febrile Seizures after MMR vaccinations. The authors provide compelling evidence for common variants in known epilepsy genes. However, the strongest genetic risk for Febrile Seizures is in a known disease gene that nobody expected. Continue reading

The 1003 possible autism genes – a matter of constraint

Overview. There have been numerous publications on de novo mutations in autism and intellectual disability over the last three years. Many of these studies struggle to distinguish signal from noise, and the plethora of findings leaves the reader wondering which genes are bona fide autism genes and in which cases the evidence is limited. A recent paper in Nature Genetics uses a new metric to assess expected versus observed de novo mutations in more than published 1000 autism patient-parent trios – and the answers appear to be straightforward. Continue reading

The common variants in our genome that predispose to epilepsy – the ILAE GWAS

ILAE GWAS. This is one of the rare occasions when I can write on behalf of the ILAE Genetics Commission and discuss a recent publication. Earlier this week, the ILAE Consortium on complex epilepsies came online in Lancet Neurology. This study is a large meta-analysis of almost 9,000 patients and 26,000 controls looking at common genetic variants predisposing to common epilepsies, including the Idiopathic/Genetic Generalized Epilepsies and focal epilepsies. In a nutshell, when looking for common variants predisposing to the epilepsies, the answer is surprisingly simple. Continue reading

Should we stop talking about heritability in 2014?

Genetic epidemiology. Long before the first epilepsy gene was discovered, clinicians and researchers were wondering about a genetic contribution to epilepsy. Some epilepsy syndrome were found to run in families in an autosomal dominant or recessive pattern. In other epilepsies, there was an obvious excess of affected family members in the immediate or extended family. And this is how we got stuck with the concept of heritability. Let’s review the perils and pitfalls of heritability and ask the question whether we should retire this concept in the current era of genomic medicine. Continue reading

The age of mega-genomics, type 2 diabetes, and protective variants in SLC30A8

Sequence first. There are larger genetic studies but not too many. In a recent study in Nature Genetics, roughly 150,000 individuals were genotyped to assess the importance of rare, disruptive variants in SLC30A8 in type 2 diabetes. This genomic tour de force was made possible by available and curated databases that could be tapped to extract the necessary genetic information. Also, this study highlights some of the surprises that we can expect by mining the human genome for disease-related information. Rare, disruptive variants in SLC30A8 protect against type 2 diabetes. Let’s review why these rare, protective genetic factors might be particularly important for biomedical research and what kind of studies we need to identify them. Continue reading