The familial risk of epilepsy – revisited

Missing heritability. The concept of missing heritability is often invoked to demonstrate that existing genetic techniques only identify a fraction of the overall genetic risk for human diseases including the epilepsies. This statement implicitly assumes that we have a good and solid understanding of what the magnitude of genetic risk actually is. However, when looking at the epidemiological studies that have investigated familial risk of epilepsy, some of these studies have inherent problems, including small sample sizes, different phenotype definitions, recruitment bias, and lack of controls. A recent study in Brain now reassesses the familial risk of epilepsy in a population-based cohort of the Rochester Epidemiology Project. There are few instant classics in the field of epilepsy genetics – this study is one of them. 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

Navigating the epilepsiome – live from Tübingen

2D. I am writing this post during our EuroEPINOMICS meeting in Tübingen listening to presentation from CoGIE, the EuroEPINOMICS project working on IGE/GGE and Rolandic Epilepsies and RES, the project on rare epilepsies. At some point during the afternoon, I made my selection for the best graph during the presentations today – an overview of the conservation space of epilepsy genes. Continue reading

Three things you didn’t know about epilepsy and genes

Fall colors. Just a brief summary of how this post originated. Eckernförde is a small city north of Kiel and the weekly Sunday destination of my daughter and me because of the wave pool.  This past Sunday, daylight saving and the fact that she didn’t like her dinner had confused the little girl, and we had been awake since 4AM. As a consequence, she fell asleep on the way, and I kept driving to let her sleep. We made it as far as Haddeby, and I used this time to mentally put a post together that I had been planning for some time. These are the three things that are often misunderstood with regards to epilepsy and genes. Continue reading

Identifying core phenotypes – epilepsy, ID and recurrent microdeletions

Triad. There are three microdeletions in particular that increase the risk for the Idiopathic/Genetic Generalized Epilepsies (IGE/GGE). This triad includes microdeletions at 15q13.3, 16p13.11 and 15q11.2, which are hotspot deletions arising from the particular architecture of the human genome. While the association of these microdeletions with epilepsy and other neurodevelopmental disorders including autism, intellectual disability and schizophrenia is well established, the core phenotype of these variants remains elusive, including the question whether such a core phenotype actually exists. In a recent paper in Neurology, Mullen and collaborators zoom in on a possible core phenotype of these microdeletions. The authors investigate a phenotype in which these microdeletions are particularly enriched: generalized epilepsy with intellectual disability. Continue reading

Genetic Generalized Epilepsy might be less genetic than you think

Ceci n’est pas une pipe. The painter René Magritte was known for his series of paintings that he called The Treachery of Images. He basically painted objects such as pipes, but then felt compelled to point out that the image actually betrays you. It’s not a real pipe, but only an image of it. For some reason, Magritte’s pipe comes to my mind when I read or hear the term Genetic Generalized Epilepsy. Again, the treachery of images. Ceci n’est pas une épilepsie génétique. Continue reading

Standing on the shoulders of giants: the EPICURE GWAS on Idiopathic Generalized Epilepsy

Pushing the reset button. The history of epilepsy genetics can broadly be distinguished into two major eras: the time before September 4th, 2012 and everything after this. September 4th, 2012 was the date that the first large genome-wide association study in IGE/GGE was published online in Human Molecular Genetics. Each of the >100 association studies in IGE listed in PubMed is now dated and needs to measure up against the current study, which will likely be remembered as the “EPICURE study”. The results of the EPICURE study are surprising and upset our conventional wisdom of what causes one of the most common forms of epilepsy. Continue reading