The exome fallacy

Are you fully covered? My experience with a phenomenon I shall call exome fallacy began in 2011. While browsing the exomes of a few patients with epileptic encephalopathies, we wanted to have a quick look at whether we could exclude mutations in the epilepsy gene SCN1A in our patients through exome data. As some of you might already guess, the words “exome” and “exclude” don’t go well together and we learned the hard way that each individual exome covers certain parts of the gene quite well. However, if you expect your exome data to have sufficient quality to cover an entire gene in several individuals, you end up disappointed. But there is even more to the exome fallacy than you might think… Continue reading

Next Generation Sequencing as a diagnostic tool in the epilepsy clinic

Remember Guthrie cards and the heel stick for newborn screening? It will be a thing of the past in 10 years replaced by methods performed through Next Generation Sequencing (NGS). NHGRI and NICHD have already committed to a $25M program for Next Generation Sequencing in Newborn Screening and first reports appear describing the value of exome sequencing in solving undiagnosed cases. However, these reports all leave clinicians working in the epilepsy clinic scratching their heads – this all sounds very good, but what can you offer your patients already, not just in 2-3 years?

265 genes at once. A team led by the EuroEPINOMICS researchers Johannes Lemke and Saskia Biskup has now evaluated the feasibility of targeted Next Generation Sequencing of a panel of epilepsy genes and the results published in Epilepsia last week are quite impressive. With their panel of 265 genes, they identified mutations in 16/33 patients with unclassified, presumably genetic epilepsy. While the overall yield of this candidate panel is probably lower than the impressive 50% in their pioneer study, these results clearly show that the general workflow in the epilepsy clinic is ready to shift from candidate gene screening to Next Gen panel analysis.

New and old genes identified. The list of genes identified in their screening is a mixed bag of epilepsy genes, many of which were identified in syndromes with a high degree of clinical suspicion including mutations in SCN1A, SCN2A and KCNQ3. Interestingly, some unlikely candidates also popped up. One patient with a clinical picture of Dravet Syndrome (DS) had a mutation in TPP1, the gene causative for Neuronal Ceroid Lipofuscinosis Type 2. This unexpected finding highlights another important “side-effect” of NGS: we will probably discover many unusual phenotypes for known disorders.

You wouldn’t think so, but panels are sometimes more thorough. Lemke and coworkers identify mutations in SCN1A in three patients with DS. This alone would not be all that remarkable. However, these three patients were previously reported to be negative for SCN1A by Sanger sequencing. This phenomenon is not new. In addition to identifying GABRA1 in SCN1A-negative DS, Mefford and colleagues also identified a mutation in SCN1A by exome in a patient with DS that was missed by conventional sequencing. While it is difficult to compare exome and conventional sequencing, these two anectodes at least suggest that NGS is not fairing any worse than conventional methods.

Study by Lemke et al. demonstrating the usefulness of targeted NGS in patients with epilepsy. Unlike few other genetic technologies, targeted NGS is very likely to alter your work flow in clinic at short term.

Targeted sequencing vs. exome. In the upcoming 12-24 months, we expect an intense debate on whether targeted sequencing is actually necessary or whether you could directly apply diagnostic exome sequencing. Targeted technologies – for now – have the advantage of the higher coverage, i.e. the eventual quality and completeness of candidate gene sequences higher than in exome studies. However, the field is evolving and the next, better technology might already be around the corner.