Living in a post-linkage world, craving knowledge

Genomics meets linkage. This blog post is about family studies in epilepsy genetics. One of my tasks for the next two months is to write the “Trilateral Grant” – we were invited to submit a full proposal for a German-Israeli-Palestinian grant by the German Research Foundation (DFG) on the genetics of familial epilepsies. As keeping up our blogging schedule will be my other big task for the coming months, I thought that I could combine both and explore some topics regarding family studies on this blog. Let’s start with a sobering fact – small dominant families remain difficult to solve, not because of too little but rather too much genetic data. Continue reading

The OMIM epileptic encephalopathy genes – a 2014 review

EIEE1-19. Online Mendelian Inheritance in Man (OMIM) is one of the most frequently accessed online databases for information on genetic disorders. Genes for epileptic encephalopathies are organized within a phenotypic series entitled Early Infantile Epileptic Encephalopathy (EIEE). The EIEE phenotypic series currently lists 19 genes (EIEE1-19). Let’s review the evidence for these genes as of 2014. Continue reading

SLC25A22, migrating seizures and mitochrondial glutamate deficiency

MPSI. Migrating partial seizures of infancy (MPSI) are a catastrophic form of infantile epilepsy that was entirely unexplained until de novo mutations in KCNT1 were identified in a subset of sporadic cases in 2012. For familial MPSI, however, the genetic basis remained unknown. In a recent publication in Annals of Neurology, Poduri and collaborators identify mutations in SCL25A22 in a family with recessive MPSI. Their study sheds light on the genetic basis of catastrophic epilepsies and the phenotypic range of mitochondrial glutamate starvation. Continue reading

The many faces of PIGA – from paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria to epileptic encephalopathy

PNH. PIGA codes for a protein involved in the early steps of GPI anchor synthesis, hydrophobic anchors that are attached to a range of proteins, which allows them to be attached to the membrane. This mechanism is important for protein sorting in the endoplasmatic reticulum and the Golgi apparatus. Acquired mutations in PIGA are known to cause paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria (PNH), an anemia due to destruction of red blood cells. In a recent paper in Neurology, de novo mutations in PIGA are now identified in a complex genetic syndrome, which has early-onset intractable epilepsy as the most prominent feature. Continue reading

Papers of the week – SCN1B, ATP1A3, NGLY1, and ontologies

Filling in. As Dennis is current fully engaged in the Helsinki meeting, I am filling in for him to present the most relevant publications in the field published in the last two weeks. This week’s publications were about functional studies, phenotype delineations, and novel gene findings. 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

Imbalance of a rare second messenger – FIG4 mutations in polymicrogyria

Brain malformations. Various brain malformations are thought to have a genetic basis, and several genes have already been identified. Polymicrogyria is a particular form of congenital brain malformation due to an excessive number of small and sometimes malformed gyri. In a recent publication in Neurology, mutations in FIG4 are described in a familial form of polymicrogyria. However, the FIG4 gene is no stranger in the field of neurogenetics. Continue reading

Popper, Kuhn, and the paradigm shifts of the genomic revolution

Paradigm shifts no more. During our bioinformatics workshop in Leuven, Roland pointed out that I tend to use the phrase “paradigm shift” too liberally. In fact, the concept of paradigm changes in science was made popular by Thomas Kuhn, an American physicist, historian, and philosopher of science. Kuhn believed that scientists work within a given set of paradigms and believes that they don’t really question them – until everything falls apart. Let me take you on a brief journey through the philosophy of genomics starting with Kuhn’s nemesis, Karl Popper. Continue reading

QARS mutations, tRNA, and neurodegeneration with migrating seizures

Q for glutamine. Transfer RNAs (tRNAs) are small adaptor molecules that match a nucleotide sequence to a given amino acid during protein translation. After unloading their amino acid payload, tRNAs are recharged with new amino acids through specific tRNA synthetases. Q is the official letter for the amino acid glutamine, and its respective tRNA synthetase is glutaminyl-tRNA synthetase (QARS). In a recent publication in the American Journal of Human Genetics, Zhang and colleagues identify compound heterozygous mutations in the QARS gene in two families with progressive microcephaly, neurodegeneration, and intractable, early-onset epilepsy. Interestingly, in at least two probands, the seizures are described as migrating partial seizures reminiscent of Malignant Migrating Partial Seizures of Infancy (MMPSI) due to mutations in KCNT1. The disease mechanism, however, appears to be entirely different. Continue reading

DUF1220, autism, and highly dosage-variable genes

Copy numbers. When we discuss structural genomic variants in the human genome on the Channelopathist blog, we usually refer to regions where simple deletions or duplications exert a pathogenic effect. However, there are also genes that are highly copy number variable, sometimes present at 80 copies or more. Copy numbers of a few of these genes have expanded during human evolution recently, turning these genes into potential candidate genes for human disease. A recent paper in PLOS Genetics now examines the role of DUF1220, which encodes a protein domain of the NBPF genes. This domain shows an unusually broad range of copy number variation in the human genome. Interestingly, this gene resides right next to the 1q21.1 region that is implicated in various neurodevelopmental disorders. Continue reading