From unaffected to Dravet Syndrome – extreme SCN1A phenotypes in a large GEFS+ family

The two faces of SCN1A. Even though the range of phenotypes associated with mutations in SCN1A can be conceptualized as a continuum, there are usually two distinct entities in clinical practice: the severe, epileptic encephalopathy of Dravet Syndrome due to de novo mutations and the usually mild fever-related epilepsies in autosomal dominant GEFS+ families. While Dravet Syndrome can also be seen in some families with Genetic Epilepsy with Febrile Seizures Plus (GEFS+), this is a rare phenomenon; there is usually little overlap between Dravet Syndrome and GEFS+. Within the Israel Epilepsy Family Project, we came across such a family with overlapping phenotypes. This recently published large GEFS+ family probably has the widest phenotypic range reported to date. Continue reading

An inconvenient truth – segregation of monogenic variants in small families

Climate change. In the era of exome and genome sequencing, it might be worthwhile revisiting the merit of family studies in epilepsy research. Seizure disorders are known to have a highly diverse genetic architecture. When singleton studies identify a single, unique gene finding, this discovery usually does not provide much information about the potential causal role of the variant given the high degree of genomic noise. In contrast, family studies are usually considered more robust, as segregation of variants can be traced. Here is the inconvenient truth: unless the family is very large, segregation of possibly monogenic variants adds little information given the vast amount of variants present in our genomes. Continue reading

Temperature rising: 17q12 microduplications and GEFS+

GEFS+, meet CNV. Microduplications at 17q12 have been identified in various neurodevelopmental disorders and in some unaffected individuals, a pattern familiar from other structural genomic variants such as microdeletions at 16p13.11 and 15q11.2. In contrast to the corresponding microdeletion, most 17q12 microduplications are inherited. This suggests that the microduplication is a risk factor, but does not fully explain the phenotype. In a recent paper in Neurology, Hardies and collaborators look at the families of 17q12 microduplication carriers with epilepsy. And this is when they noticed something strange. Continue reading

The endozepine mystery

Compound unknown. GABA is the main inhibitory neurotransmitter in the Central Nervous System and its effect is mediated through GABA receptors. Benzodiazepines are compounds that reinforce the action of GABA in the brain, which gives them antiepileptic properties. Consequently, benzodiazepines are one of the most common groups of antiepileptic drugs used to interrupt acute epileptic seizures. Interestingly, benzodiazepines have their own binding site on the GABA receptor, suggesting that they might actually mimic the effect of another, yet unknown substance that is present in the brain. The identity of this mysterious substance, the endogenous benzodiazepine or endozepine, has been one the romantic mysteries of neuroscience. Now, a recent paper in Neuron provides strong evidence that products of the DBI gene are the long-sought endozepine. Continue reading

Less is more – gene identification in epileptic encephalopathies through targeted resequencing

Exome no more. Over the last 15 months, we have repeatedly discussed how exome sequencing or genome sequencing is applied to neurodevelopmental disorders in order to discover new candidate genes and to assess the role of known candidate genes. We have also wondered sometimes whether exome sequencing is the most straightforward approach. Now – outpacing the two large international consortia using exome sequencing in epileptic encephalopathies – a recent study in Nature Genetics uses a different approach to uncover the genetic basis in 10% of patients with epileptic encephalopathies.  Targeted resequencing or gene panel analysis is a hybrid technology between candidate gene sequencing and next generation sequencing and focuses only on a subset of candidate genes. While their study provides a comprehensive overview over the genetics of rare epilepsy syndromes, it raises the question whether the era of large-scale exome sequencing is coming to a natural end. Continue reading

Eyelid myoclonia with absences meets GEFS+

Running in the family. Eyelid myoclonia with absences (EMA) is a rare generalized epilepsy syndrome characterized by brief episodes of myoclonic jerks that are often accompanied by an upward deviation of the eyeballs and an extension of the head. The EEG shows generalized spike-wave discharges during these episodes, and most patients are highly photosensitive. Therefore, it would be natural to think of EMA as related to other classical generalized epilepsies including Childhood Absence Epilepsy or Juvenile Myoclonic Epilepsy. Now, a recent paper in Epilepsia shows that the families of patients with EMA tell a slightly different story. Continue reading