SCN1A – This is what you need to know in 2014

Update. As information on the epilepsies caused by SCN1A mutations are amongst our most frequently read posts, we thought that a quick update on the state-of-the art regarding SCN1A would be timely. These are the ten things about SCN1A that you should known in 2014. 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

Surrendering to genomic noise – de novo mutations in schizophrenia

Heterogeneity. Family-based exome sequencing or trio exome sequencing for de novo mutations is currently the method of choice to identify genetic risk factors in neurodevelopmental disorders. However, given the increasingly recognized variability in the human genome, the hunt for causative de novo mutations is sometimes an uphill battle – it is impossible to distinguish causal mutations from random events unless genes are affected repeatedly. In a recent publication in Nature, Fromer and colleagues present the most comprehensive search for de novo mutations in schizophrenia to date. They observe an incredible genetic heterogeneity that reflects the genetic architecture of neurodevelopmental disorders. Continue reading

Five questions you should be asking the ILAE Genetics Commission

Five questions. We are now part of the new Genetics Commission of the International League Against Epilepsy (ILAE), as we already indicated in an earlier post. Here’s what you can expect from the Commission over the course of the next four years. Continue reading

Modifier genes in Dravet Syndrome: where to look and how to find them

Converging thoughts. During late 2013, I had several unrelated discussions about the possible role of genetic modifiers of SCN1A in Dravet Syndrome. To some extent, SCN1A is a paradox. One the one hand, the connection between Dravet Syndrome and SCN1A is one of the clearest connections between gene and disease that we see in genetic epilepsies. On the other hand, we see a remarkable phenotypic heterogeneity in families, and some presumably pathogenic SCN1A variants can also be identified in unaffected control individuals. This leaves us with the question whether there are genetic modifiers in Dravet Syndrome that might help provide some insight into additional mechanisms of disease. This post is a collection of 10 individual thoughts that emerged during the discussions last year. Continue reading

Story of a genetic shape-shifter: SCN2A in benign seizures, autism and epileptic encephalopathy

The other sodium channel gene. The week before Christmas, the Kiel group identified its first patient with SCN2A encephalopathy. At the same time, a questionably benign SNP in the same gene is haunting our Israel Epilepsy Family Project. Time to review the mysterious SCN2A gene that initially entered the scene as a candidate for a rare, benign familial epilepsy syndrome – only to return as one of the most prominent genes for autism, intellectual disability, and epileptic encephalopathies to date. Continue reading

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

Mutation intolerance – why some genes withstand mutations and others don’t

The river of genetic variants. The era of high-throughput sequencing has given us several unexpected insights into the human genome. One of these insights is the observation that mutations or variations can occur in parts of our genome without any major consequences. Every individual is a “knockout” for at least two genes in the human genome. This means that in every individual, both copies of a single gene are disrupted through mutations or small deletions or duplications. In addition, there are dozens, if not hundreds, of genes with disruptive mutations that affect only a single copy of the gene. Similar mutations in specific disease-associated genes, however, will invariably result in an early onset genetic disorder. This comparison already shows that the genes in the human genome differ with respect to the amount of disruptive genetic variation they can tolerate. A recent study in PLOS Genetics now tries to catalogue the genes in the human genome by assessing their mutation intolerance based on the genetic variation seen in large-scale exome datasets. Many genes for neurodevelopmental disorders are highly intolerant to mutations. Furthermore, some genes for monogenic epilepsies show surprising results in this assessment. Continue reading

Dravet Syndrome and rare variants in SCN9A

How monogenic is monogenic? Dravet Syndrome is a severe epileptic encephalopathy starting in the first year of life. More than 80% of patients have mutations or deletions in SCN1A, which makes Dravet Syndrome a relatively homogeneous genetic epilepsy. In addition to SCN1A, other genetic risk factors for Dravet Syndrome have been suggested, and current, large-scale studies including EuroEPINOMICS-RES are studying the genetic basis of the minority of Dravet patients negative for SCN1A. A recent paper in Epilepsia now suggests that a significant fraction of patients with Dravet Syndrome also carry rare variants in SCN9A in addition to the mutations in SCN1A. Is a mutation in SCN1A not sufficient to result in Dravet Syndrome, but needs additional genetic modifiers? Continue reading

Epileptic encephalopathies: de novo mutations take center stage

The de novo paradigm. De novo mutations play a significant role in many neurodevelopmental disorders including autism, intellectual disability and schizophrenia. In addition, several smaller studies have indicated a role for de novo mutations in severe epilepsies. However, unless known genes for human epilepsies are involved, findings from large-scale genetic studies are difficult to interpret. De novo mutations are also seen in unaffected individuals and only very few genes are observed more than once. Now, a publication in Nature by the Epi4K and EPGP collaborators uses a novel framework to tell pathogenic mutations from genomic noise. Their study provides very strong evidence for a predominant role of de novo mutations in Infantile Spasms and Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome. Continue reading