Identifying the Doose gene – SLC6A1 mutations in Myoclonic Astatic Epilepsy

Doose Syndrome. In the early 1970s, a group of children with severe childhood epilepsies was found to have comparable clinical features that consisted of quick jerks and subsequent drop attacks amongst other types of epileptic seizures. These seizures, myoclonic-astatic or myoclonic-atonic seizures, eventually became the defining feature of an epilepsy syndrome referred to as Myoclonic Astatic Epilepsy or Doose Syndrome. In the recent issue of the American Journal of Human Genetics, we report on the first true gene for Doose Syndrome. Here is the story of SLC6A1 (GAT-1). Continue reading

CHD2 myoclonic encephalopathy – delineating a novel disease

CHD2. In 2013, mutations in CHD2 were reported in various publications including two major studies on epileptic encephalopathies, reinforcing the notion that de novo mutations in this gene are a recurrent cause of epileptic encephalopathies. However, large-scale studies often cannot fully appreciate the complete phenotype of the patient behind the gene finding. Therefore, it is difficult to appreciate similarities between patients and assess whether phenotypes constitute a recognizable entity. In a recent publication in Neurology, the phenotype of CHD2 encephalopathy is explored in detail – it represents a distinct, recognizable disease entity. Continue reading

ESES and the postsynapse – CNKSR2 in genetic epilepsies

Structure. Despite tremendous advances in understanding its genetic underpinnings in the last few years, electrical status epilepticus during slow-wave sleep (ESES) is a poorly understood neurodevelopmental disorder and to a certain extent the prototype of an epileptic encephalopathy. Slow-wave sleep in affected children is entirely replaced by epileptiform activity, leading to significant neurocognitive impairment with an emphasis on speech impairment. In a recent publication in Annals of Neurology, alterations in CNKSR2 are identified in families with a more severe course of ESES, highlighting the postsynapse as a possible player in ESES pathogenesis. 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

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

Critical brain-expressed exons and de novo mutations in autism

Selection. De novo mutations in neurodevelopmental disorders including autism, schizophrenia, and intellectual disability raise an important question: are the mutations identified in patients pathogenic or are they simply genomic noise? A recent study in Nature Genetics tries to answer this question by looking at expression of particular exons in the brain and the overall mutational burden in these exons. They come up with critical exons, which seem to be particularly vulnerable in Autism Spectrum Disorder. Continue reading

Magnesium, epilepsy, and CNNM2 mutations

Electrolytes. Sodium, calcium, and magnesium – I usually tell my students that imbalances in these serum electrolytes may result in seizures, when levels fall under a critical threshold. Amongst these imbalances, hypomagnesemia, a reduction of the serum magnesium level below 0.7 mmol/L, is a very rare cause of seizures, particularly in a pediatric population. However, there are genetic conditions that result in reduced magnesium levels and lead to neurological complications. In a recent paper in PLOS Genetics, the phenotype of CNNM2 mutation carriers is investigated – and magnesium is only the beginning of the story. Continue reading

How genome sequencing in intellectual disability breaks the 50% boundary

Exome failures. Trio exome sequencing has the huge potential to discover the genetic basis of neurodevelopmental disorders. However, the results are negative for the majority of patients. In a recent study published in Nature, genome sequencing was applied to exome-negative patients with intellectual disability, identifying mutations in coding regions that were previously missed. But are the authors correct in stating that they can explain more than 60% of cases in an unselected cohort? Continue reading

The return of the h-current: HCN1 mutations in atypical Dravet Syndrome

Hyperpolarization. More than a quarter of a century ago, physiologists identified an electrical current in neurons and cardiac myocytes that behaved so strangely that it was called the “queer” or “funny” current: it paradoxically caused depolarization upon hyperpolarization. This current was finally named h-current and is mediated by HCN channels. The h-current has been associated with epilepsy through functional studies, but a genetic link has been elusive so far. In a recent publication in Nature Genetics, de novo mutations in HCN1 are identified in patients with early-onset epileptic encephalopathies resembling Dravet Syndrome. Continue reading

Treatable causes of intellectual disability and epilepsy that you don’t want to miss

Think metabolic. We have discussed de novo mutations as a cause of epileptic encephalopathies repeatedly on our blog. While there is emerging evidence that de novo mutations in established genes such as SCN1A or CDKL5 or novel genes including GNAO1 or CHD2 are a major cause of genetic morbidity in patients with epileptic encephalopathies, investigations for de novo mutations are not the immediate knee-jerk reaction in clinical practice. In fact, if a child presents with an epileptic encephalopathy, excluding inborn errors of metabolism (IEM) takes priority. While metabolic causes of epileptic encephalopathies are rare, they need to be excluded as some of these conditions are treatable. In a recent review in Molecular Genetics and Metabolism, van Karnebeek and colleagues review the 89 causes of intellectual disability that are potentially treatable. Many of these conditions also present with epilepsy. They present an updated diagnostic algorithm and provide an online resource for these conditions – in a nutshell, there is an app for that.  Continue reading