Axiomatic – identifying a novel epilepsy gene that was hidden right before your eyes

The Hague, winter of 1997. Last week challenged my most basic beliefs, which reminded me of “Axiomatic”, a collection of science fiction short stories by Greg Egan. While on holiday in the Netherlands in 1997, I had bought this book in the Den Haag Centraal bookstore, and subsequently lost it or gave it away. I only remembered the title three weeks ago, and ordered it online. The book arrived at the same time that news from Antwerp twisted my brain. In the signature story of “Axiomatic” with the same title, a man acquires a nano-robot based implant that allows him to change his innermost convictions (I told you that it’s science fiction, right?). He basically wants to have the courage to kill the man who murdered his wife. After carrying out his revenge and after the effect of the axiomatic implant has worn off, he starts craving for more, since he is missing the certainty in his life that the implant had given him. I needed to adjust my deeply held expectation on how to find de novo mutations after Tania, a PhD student in the Antwerp lab, had pulled out a de novo mutation in one of our trios that Denovogear had missed. This mutation turned out to be another hit in a gene that we had seen before. Continue reading

One in four – the carrier rate of recessive diseases

How frequent? With all the genetic information around, we are often wondering how much genetic morbidity is really hidden in our genomes. Yes, everybody is a knock-out for 1-3 genes, but in most cases, these variants do not cause disease. However, what happens if you apply genomics to estimate the burden of known disease variants? Now in a recent paper in Genetics in Medicine by Lazarin and colleagues, the carrier frequency for ~400 variants known to cause ~100 recessive disorders is investigated. 24% of all individuals are carriers for at least one recessive disorder. Continue reading

Rare Epilepsy Syndromes and the Congenital Disorders of Glycosylation

Rare Epilepsy Syndromes. Motivated by a recent paper in JIMD Reports, I wanted to use this post to present a very rare group of disorders, in which glycosylation of a variety of tissue proteins and/or lipids is deficient. These so-called congenital disorders of glycosylation (CDG) are a highly heterogeneous group of recessive disorders that you might be confronted with. As CDG may masquerade as otherwise non-specific epileptic encephalopathies, you might encounter them clinically or by browsing through exomes of patients with RES. Imtiaz and colleagues now report on two brothers in a large Saudi family with 18 affected siblings. They identified a mutation in DPAGT1, which is known to cause CDG Ij.   Continue reading

10 strategies to help you get papers out faster

The one question. Early during my doctoral thesis I was confronted with the one big question in life science. The one question that you should always ask yourself when doing research. “What is the paper going to look like?” Don’t get me wrong, there is much, much more to science than publishing, but in this post, I would like to reflect on our attitude towards publications and suggestions how we could do better. And this also includes myself. Continue reading

C9orf72 expansions and neurodegenerative disease

Out of my league. I must admit that I know very little about the genetics of neurodegenerative disorders, but a recent article in the American Journal of Human Genetics caught my interest. Massive expansions of a hexanucleotide repeat in the first intron of C9orf72 are a known cause of frontotemporal lobar degeneration (FTLD)  and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). With a novel method for rapid screening for these expansions, the authors investigate a large cohort of patients with neurodegenerative disorders and population controls, providing an interesting example of how seemingly clear-cut monogenic disorders acquire an unanticipated degree of complexity. Continue reading

The Pareto Principle versus the Long Tail

80/20. In every scientist’s life there is a point when someone points out to you that you should not waste your time and that you should work more efficiently. If that someone, be it your boss, supervisor or close friend with a superior track record, is inclined to resort to management language, you might hear about the Pareto Principle or the Eisenhower matrix. Follow me on a brief motivational blog post that your boss probably doesn’t want you to read – telling you why it is good to keep doing what you are doing. Continue reading

GOSR2, North Sea myoclonus and the Haithabu variant

Wall Street. Between the 8th and 11th century, Haithabu (Hebedy), a Viking town in Northern Germany close to the border to Denmark was the Manhattan of its time – a flourishing trading town located at a busy shipping route at a natural short passage connecting the Eider and the Treene river, a precursor of the modern-day Kiel canal. The  Vikings used this shortcut to avoid the dangerous Skagerak when heading West on their conquests. When subsequently settling down in many regions of the North Sea coast, they carried their genetic heritage with them, including a rare variant in the GOSR2 gene, which results in a devastating epilepsy when homozygous. A recent paper in Brain now delineates the phenotype of the “North Sea” progressive myoclonus epilepsy. Continue reading

What would my exome tell about me – a birth announcement

La famiglia. As you might already know, our family expanded two weeks ago with the arrival with our newborn son. Mother and baby are well and happy. As with all other newborns in Germany, our son got a heel stick on his third day of life for newborn screening. When my parents visited the following weekend and the kids were in bed one evening, we eventually ended up talking about screening, genome, disease and the possibility to make predictions from your genetic data. Therefore, looking forwards on life from the perspective of a newborn, what could we learn from exome/genome data and do we want to know it? Continue reading

“Meta-channelopathies” – RBFOX1 deletions and human epilepsy

Man is built to seize. When Hughlings Jackson made this famous comment pertaining to the inherent hyperexcitability of the human brain in response to a wide range of different stimuli, he probably didn’t anticipate the mechanisms of splicing regulation. Our CNS is actively protected from hyperexcitability through directed splicing of ion channel mRNA. Now, a recent study in Epilepsia finds that these mechanisms may be dysfunctional in human epilepsy. Continue reading