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

Dravet Syndrome and rare variants in SCN9A

How monogenic is monogenic? Dravet Syndrome is a severe epileptic encephalopathy starting in the first year of life. More than 80% of patients have mutations or deletions in SCN1A, which makes Dravet Syndrome a relatively homogeneous genetic epilepsy. In addition to SCN1A, other genetic risk factors for Dravet Syndrome have been suggested, and current, large-scale studies including EuroEPINOMICS-RES are studying the genetic basis of the minority of Dravet patients negative for SCN1A. A recent paper in Epilepsia now suggests that a significant fraction of patients with Dravet Syndrome also carry rare variants in SCN9A in addition to the mutations in SCN1A. Is a mutation in SCN1A not sufficient to result in Dravet Syndrome, but needs additional genetic modifiers? Continue reading

Epileptic encephalopathies: de novo mutations take center stage

The de novo paradigm. De novo mutations play a significant role in many neurodevelopmental disorders including autism, intellectual disability and schizophrenia. In addition, several smaller studies have indicated a role for de novo mutations in severe epilepsies. However, unless known genes for human epilepsies are involved, findings from large-scale genetic studies are difficult to interpret. De novo mutations are also seen in unaffected individuals and only very few genes are observed more than once. Now, a publication in Nature by the Epi4K and EPGP collaborators uses a novel framework to tell pathogenic mutations from genomic noise. Their study provides very strong evidence for a predominant role of de novo mutations in Infantile Spasms and Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome. Continue reading