Here are 5 quick free web-based tools for gene interpretation

Exome rounds. Interpreting genetic variants is one of the main challenges in genomic medicine. Many people have perceived barriers to starting some of the variant analysis themselves, given that there is the widespread notion that this requires expert bioinformatics knowledge. However, this is somewhat a concept of the past. There are some beautiful and simple tools online that you can use for free. Here are my favorite web-based tools for variant interpretation. Continue reading

SCN8A encephalopathy – and how it differs from Dravet Syndrome

Nav1.6. For some reason, SCN8A always met some resistance. In contrast to other epilepsy genes, it took a while for the community to embrace this gene as a genuine cause of epileptic encephalopathies. A recent publication in Neurology now investigates the phenotypic spectrum of SCN8A encephalopathy – and points out important features that distinguish this condition from Dravet Syndrome. 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

Modifier genes in Dravet Syndrome: where to look and how to find them

Converging thoughts. During late 2013, I had several unrelated discussions about the possible role of genetic modifiers of SCN1A in Dravet Syndrome. To some extent, SCN1A is a paradox. One the one hand, the connection between Dravet Syndrome and SCN1A is one of the clearest connections between gene and disease that we see in genetic epilepsies. On the other hand, we see a remarkable phenotypic heterogeneity in families, and some presumably pathogenic SCN1A variants can also be identified in unaffected control individuals. This leaves us with the question whether there are genetic modifiers in Dravet Syndrome that might help provide some insight into additional mechanisms of disease. This post is a collection of 10 individual thoughts that emerged during the discussions last year. Continue reading

2013 in review: top three lists and the gene finding of the year

Gene of the year. Let’s take a minute to look back at the very busy year of 2013. There were major advances in many areas of epilepsy genetics. First and foremost, massive (and I mean massive) progress has been made in the genetics of the epileptic encephalopathies, where de novo mutations have been identified as a major source of genetic morbidity. Secondly, the new technologies have made it possible to identify several novel genes for various epilepsy types. Out of these genes, we have again selected the most important finding in 2013. And the gene finding of the year is… Continue reading

Why I am still struggling with SCN9A in Dravet Syndrome

Susceptibility. Two weeks ago, we published a post on rare variants in SCN9A as potential susceptibility genes for Dravet Syndrome with mutations in SCN1A. Ever since reading the article by Mulley and collaborators, I had tried to come up with an idea of what the genetic architecture might look like if both de novo variants and inherited variants contribute. I wanted to follow up on my earlier post with this brief back-of-the-envelope calculation. 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

Exomes to the extreme to identify modifier gene in cystic fibrosis

Monogenic modifiers. Exome sequencing is a well established method to find causative genes in monogenic disorders, with probably more than 100 genes identified through this method in the last two years. In contrast to the ever-expanding list of monogenic diseases solved through massive parallel sequencing, there is widespread skepticism regarding its usefulness in complex genetic disorders. Now, a recent study in Nature Genetics suggests another application for exome sequencing, the identification of modifier genes in monogenic disorders. Continue reading