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

Chutzpah, Zen and Fahrvernügen – the 2013 Sde Boker workshop

Desert Dessert. Cold temperatures, streets closed because of snow – this is not what you expect when traveling to Israel. You also do not expect to have the chance to taste traditional Bedouin food and to see a beautiful canyon every morning. The biggest surprise is that you do not expect this during a workshop. From Dec 12-15th, the European epilepsy genetic community gathered in Be’er Sheva and Sde Boker, Israel for a combined epilepsy genetics workshop and a Young Researcher Meeting. This is a brief attempt to capture the atmosphere of this workshop for everybody who could not attend. By the way, “desert dessert” is a port wine produced in the Negev desert.

Continue reading

New epilepsy genes involved in epigenetics – a survey

A growing number of genes have been identified to be causative for genetic forms of epilepsy, which are neither ion channels, receptors nor other classical epilepsy genes but epigenetic players. The epigenetic enzymes and effector proteins described to be mutated in inherited genetic epilepsies as well as epileptic encephalopathies, intellectual disability syndromes and autism spectrum disorders with associated severe or occasional seizure phenotype are of various function. Since this function never seems to be sufficiently discussed in the respective publications and little is to be found on how these genes may be linked to the phenotype, here comes a little overview summarizing how epigenetics is contributing not only to symptomatic focal epilepsy but may also help to explain the phenotypic heterogeneity of genetic epilepsies.

Continue reading

2B or not 2B – mutations in GRIN2B and Infantile Spasms

Year of the glutamate receptor. A few months ago we wrote a post about the triplet of Nature Genetics publications that established GRIN2A mutations as a cause of disorders within the epilepsy aphasia spectrum. GRIN2A codes for the NR2A subunit of the NMDA receptor, one of the most prominent neurotransmitter receptors in the Central Nervous System. Now, a recent paper in the Annals of Neurology reports mutations in the GRIN2B subunit as a cause of Infantile Spasms. Interestingly, the functional consequences of these mutations are completely different from GRIN2A-related epilepsies. Continue reading

Copy number variations and the forgotten epilepsy phenotypes

Complexity. Structural genomic variants or copy number variations (CNV) are known genetic risk factors for various epilepsy syndromes. In fact, CNVs might represent the single most studied type of genetic alterations across a very broad range of epilepsy syndromes. There is, however, a group of patients that is usually not investigated in genetic studies: patients with presumable lesional epilepsies or questionable findings on Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). Many of these epilepsies are usually thought to be secondary to the identified lesion, and genetic risk factors are not considered.  In a recent study in the European Journal of Human Genetics last week, we investigated the role of CNVs in a cohort of patients with complex epilepsy phenotypes that were not easily classified into existing categories. Many of patients included had definite or questionable findings on MRI.  The results of our study made us wonder whether the boundary between lesional and genetic epilepsies needs to redrawn. Continue reading

Infantile Spasms/Lennox-Gastaut genetics goes transatlantic

Joining forces. The EuroEPINOMICS-RES consortium and Epi4K/EPGP are currently joining forces for genetic studies on epileptic encephalopathies. A first collaborative study focuses on de novo mutations in Infantile Spasms and Lennox-Gastaut-Syndrome. In the last two years, after decades of disappointment, we have finally managed to accomplish a breakthrough in understanding the genetic basis of epileptic encephalopathies. The method of trio-based exome sequencing works amazingly well to identify the genetic cause, and the field currently has the crucial momentum to reach the next level of research. Let’s briefly review why we need international collaborations to disentangle the genetic architecture of the epileptic encephalopathies. Continue reading